Odd pairings have been a hallmark of this Folsom Street bar even before it reopened its doors seven months ago as a craft cocktail bar inside a dance club. In its earlier incarnation as the Up and Down Club, the owners used the space to feature a different genre of music on each floor. Now the same owners have combined an antique, speakeasy-style cocktail bar with a second-level dance floor that features an enormous disco ball, a stack of turntables and a series of flat-screen TVs that resident DJ Mark Andrews uses for his weekly audiovisual experiments. With a focus on fresh ingredients and house-made syrups and tinctures, Raven aims to impress even the most discerning cocktail connoisseur. But when the weekend comes around, no one here will judge you for heading upstairs to sweat out a Red Bull and vodka under the disco lights. The man in charge of the mixtures is bartender and manager David Luu, an eager student of the craft who entered the scene just two years ago under the tutelage of local mixologist Shawn Refuoa.
What made you decide to become a bartender?
Well, I went to school and I got my degree in molecular cell biology, so I ended up doing some biotech research first. But then I decided that I didn’t want to be behind a desk or a microscope all the time, so I kind of checked out some other things I wanted to do and I stumbled on bartending.
Are there any similarities between working in a lab and working behind the bar?
Well, I had a focus on organic chemistry and I was always interested in balance and equilibrium. I’ve learned a lot of properties from chemistry that are very important to creating craft cocktails. Like I know that you have to shake anything that has juice because of the hydrogen ions — the citric acid is better released when you shake than when you stir.
What’s happening with cocktail culture today?
I think there’s been a huge resurrection. I mean, there are so many different bars in this city and we’ve got a lot of alcohol enthusiasts, and they want to find places where they can enjoy something that’s hand-crafted rather than just a vodka-soda. And there are a lot of places with their own different types of syrups, different types of tinctures, and it has kind of opened the world of experimenting with different drinks. It’s combined the culinary side of The City and alcohol.
What do you like to drink? I am a bourbon drinker.
I like rye, especially, because of the spiciness. But honestly, if I were to come up to a random bar I would just order a Jameson.
You seem like a pretty easy-going guy. What does a customer have to do to piss you off?
The first thing I learned, and what everyone tells you, is the customer is always right. If something bad happens I will talk to the customer and offer them a free drink. I’ve had situations when people scream at me, but they’re usually just intoxicated.
Bar info: 1151 Folsom St. • (415) 431-1151 • www.ravenbarsf.com