Blackbird bartender has a sommelier's touch

Blackbird Bar: On the volume scale of bartenders, Nancy Do is on the low end. That’s not to say the soft-spoken bartender is shy and demure. Try to stump her with the provenance of arcane liquors or a hard-to-find single-malt scotch and you will fail. Ask her about the flavors of the bar’s artisanal cocktails and she will describe the etymology of each. So, it’s not surprising that Do comes from a background as a sommelier. Sure, Do can make you a martini or a margarita. But it’s more fun to order from the list of unusually named cocktails on the butcher-paper menu board — a list that changes four times a year to accommodate fresh ingredients. Just steps from the Church Street Muni station, the year-old bar has attracted an avid fan base. 2124 Market St., San Francisco; (415) 503-0630, www.blackbirdbar.com

How long have you been a bartender? It depends on how you define bartending. As a sommelier, I was always smelling and tasting things and analyzing them. That’s what brought me here. I have been a hostess, server, cocktail bartender and a wine director. I’ve worked my way around the industry.

Tell me about this bar. It opened in July 2009 with the concept that it would be a neighborhood bar that serves craft beers and artisan cocktails. We like to use fresh ingredients and it takes time to appreciate the craft.

What’s the clientele like? We get people from the Castro and different parts of The City as well. It’s hard to define this bar. On Friday, it’s gay. Other nights, it’s very diverse. It’s split 50-50 those nights. It’s not quite divey, but it’s pretty laid-back here. It’s creative and artsy but not really fancy.

What do you like about being a bartender? Mostly, I like the social aspect of it. People share a lot of things with me. I moved here without a network, so I made a lot of friends through bartending. I walk down the street and people say, “Hey, Nancy!”

Are you still involved in the wine business? I have a wine-importing business. I mostly do South American wines, which are of excellent quality and a good value.

What do you like to drink? I love wine. For cocktails, I generally stick with darker spirits as my base for manhattans, Old Fashioneds and bourbon on the rocks.

What other bars do you like? I’m still exploring, so there isn’t one spot that’s my regular spot. I like Heaven’s Dog [1148 Mission St.]. They have great artisan cocktails with no pretentiousness.

Which celebrity would you like to serve, alive or dead? I’d like to serve someone a little crazy, a little arty. Sort of like Ernest Hemingway. He was a big drinker and hard to please and he liked classic cocktails.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen as a bartender? A woman came in who was on some substance. She called herself an angel and I had a choice between life and death. That said, Blackbird is not that kind of bar. You meet a lot of people who have survived something, like brain surgery. And a couple of people came in after a friend passed away. It reminds me that life is very short and I have to get out there and live life.

Market Street Manhattan

  • 1 oz. Bulleit bourbon
  • 1 oz. Pikesville rye whiskey
  • 1 oz. Antica Formula Carpano vermouth
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • 1 dash Peychaud’s bitters

Strain over ice.

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