Behold the glory of Aub Zam Zam while sipping martinis with bartender Tei Gundolfi 

click to enlarge Tei Gundolfi
  • Juan Pardo/Special to the S.F. Examiner
  • Tei Gundolfi, a former actress, has been a bartender at Aub Zam Zam for eight years.
With its twin minarets, the facade of Aub Zam Zam evokes the mythologized Middle East of classic Hollywood films. Part the double doors under its Moorish arches, let your eyes adjust to the darkness, then take a glance at the stunning king-and-princess mural behind the circular bar. The restored oil painting seems less Hollywood kitsch and more a genuine tribute to Persian culture.

In bygone decades, before the word Persian disappeared from the name of the San Francisco bar Persian Aub Zam Zam, getting kicked out by longtime owner Bruno Mooshei was a rite of passage, the type of quintessential San Francisco experience treasured by old-school thrill-seekers. Mooshei died in 2000, but current owner Bob Clarke preserves the Haight-Ashbury bar with slavish respect for its history.

Bartender Tei Gundolfi is obsessed with education. She holds five degrees and certifications, and originally moved to The City so she could train as a Waldorf-method kindergarten teacher. A thespian in high school, Gundolfi has been a theater owner in Tampa, Fla., and an actress in New York City. Her screen credits include bit parts in “Sex and the City,” “Law and Order” and “The Sopranos.”

People rave about Aub Zam Zam’s martinis. What else should we know about your drink selection? We definitely do a lot of classic cocktails, and we’ve got a fair selection of local offerings, such as No. 209 Gin, which is made in San Francisco, and Botanica Gin from Richmond. We’ve got several things from St. George’s Spirits in Alameda, including Hangar One Vodka, Breaking & Entering Bourbon and Dry Rye Gin. And of course we also have Junipero Gin from the Anchor Distilling Company.

What is it that makes somebody with your credentials and qualifications want to tend bar at Aub Zam Zam? I was working here and teaching kindergarten, and I realized being at Zam Zam was the high point of my week. Bob Clarke is amazing—when I was pregnant, he gave me four months of maternity leave. Working here allows me to be at home with my daughter all day.

How did you get into bartending? I moved to New York at the age of 28 to be an actress, and I realized I liked the stability of bartending.

Was your goal to be on stage, do commercials, work in film or be on TV? My preference was for the theater. And certainly my preference is not going out on the job hunt every day.

How did New York treat you? At first, it was impossible to find a place to live. I lived out of a duffel bag for six months. There were times when my dog and I would sleep on the pool table of the bar I worked at. But I had a great time in New York. I loved being there. It was a magical time.

What do people notice about Aub Zam Zam besides the decor? Our jukebox is stellar. It’s got the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday and Miles Davis. I’ve been here eight years and I’m still not sick of the jukebox. That tells you something.

Does being on Haight Street mean you have a lot of crazy experiences? I tend to block these things out, but yeah, I’ve had some. There’s a constant gauging of who’s walking through the door. This is the common element between kindergarten and bartending — it’s the same job, but a different language.

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