WINGTIP This whole time we thought the building was one big clothing store. But on the 10th and 11th floors on the corner of Montgomery and Commercial streets, this is where the ballers roam. The club space occupies the old Italian Bank of America building, which eventually became the Bank of America, among a few others in its day. Membership rates for the social club start at $100 a month, and open you up to cigar rooms, golf simulators and whiskey corners with views of Coit Tower and the Transamerica Pyramid. The retail tie-in with the upstairs club is one of a kind in The City, and members have lush options to check out pocket squares, neckties, and wristwatches that equate to some people’s salaries. For an afternoon, we lived the high life with bar director Brian MacGregor, lounging in a private parlor at the helm of an old Bank of San Francisco conference table, sipping the Emperor’s Cocktail, a top-shelf variation of the Saratoga cocktail.
Seems like this is the type of place where members have a huge role in how the bar functions. Here, our members are our regulars. So it’s easy to cater our whims to what they want and what they enjoy. I’ve been fortunate enough for our members to know and trust me. It’s much more dialogue-based ordering as opposed to staring at a menu. It’s really cool from a service standpoint because it makes service really unique. We have a single-malt scotch committee and a bourbon committee. We have our members come and taste with our vendors until they find what they really like.
That’s the inverse of a regular bar. You go to Doc’s Clock on a Friday night, you’ll see a handful of regulars and 100 walk-ins. Here, you have 100 regulars and 10 walk-ins. It’s an inverted traffic flow model.
I walk on this street all the time and I’ve always just thought that this was a clothing store. We don’t do a lot of advertising, we don’t do any advertising. Our whole membership is based on word of mouth. Our members are our best salespeople. How long have you been involved in the service business? Longer than I’d like to admit, but almost 20 years. And this is one of the coolest environments I’ve worked in. I’ve worked in everything from a pizza shack to high-end restaurants. I’ve worked the full scale of the restaurant scene, and there’s been nothing like this — in the most positive way.
Would you agree that bartending is once again becoming a reputable position? It is back — 100 percent. My old man was a bartender, I’m second generation. He got out of it after 25 years just for that reason. It just wasn’t a right career choice at that time. He worked at a couple neighborhood joints and a couple restaurants. His friends always told me that he was one of the best bartenders in Milwaukee. I grew up in a restaurant family. It’s kind of all I’ve known.
You’ve been in the game for a long time. What’s the best advice you could give to young bartenders? This is no overnight process by any stretch of the imagination. Go read a couple books. Barback for six months before you decide. Find a great teacher. And for the love of Christ, don’t go trying to create new cocktails. Learn 100 classics first. Then we can start talking creation.
And outside of work? With the 10th-floor opening around the corner, I’m so busy. Sundays with my wife, we go to the 500 Club to watch the [Green Bay] Packers. It sounds goofy to say that, but we met watching football, it’s a huge part of our narrative. The Pack was playing the Broncos one Monday night. We won in overtime and I asked her out in a drunken celebration.
EMPEROR’S NEW COCKTAIL
1 ½ oz. Remy Martin
¾ oz. Yamazaki 12-year
¾ oz. Carpano Antica vermouth
Six dashes improved bitters
2-to-1 ratio of Angostura to Maraschino to Emperor Norton’s absinthe.
Build in a mixing glass. Add ice. Stir. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon twist.
BAR INFO: 550 Montgomery St. · (415)765-0993 · http://wingtip.com/club