Cliff House serves up more than just tourist fare

Sutro’s at the Cliff House: Yes, the Cliff House might never lose its reputation as a straight-up tourist trap, but it will also never lose its ability to satisfy a certain need among locals to feel like tourists in their own town. For 100 years, this San Francisco institution, founded by Adolph Sutro, has taken more than a few breaths away with its panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean. Lucky for bartender Lisa Buckley, it’s essentially her corner office. She’s been at the Cliff since it reopened five years ago from yet another renovation. If you’re expecting tourist fare, think again. Buckley’s drink list is killer, and includes such offerings as a Georgia Collins that makes us want to watch the sun rise and set from one of Sutro’s bar stools. 1090 Point Lobos Ave., S.F.; (415) 386-3330; www.cliffhouse.com

Where are you from originally? I actually have lived in many places. I went to college outside the Philadelphia area — Widener University for hotel restaurant management — which is when I started bartending. Lived there for seven years, and then went down to Atlanta, Ga., to work there during the Olympics. Stayed there for 10 years, and the goal was … I’ve always wanted to live here. I’m home. I’m so into food and wine, and I love it here.

What’s the best part of your job? Meeting people from all over the world. There’s not many jobs where you can meet people from all over, and I totally love talking to people. And I was really shy when I was younger, so it was kind of a cure.

What’s the cocktail you make most at this particular crossroads of the world? The mojito and the Cosmopolitan.

Now, part of your cocktail philosophy is to mix things up, so to speak. Can you elaborate on that? Pretty much, when I came on board here, and when I came out to San Francisco, and the Cliff House being a classic institution, I started doing a lot of research and getting really interested in classic, old-school cocktails. So my philosophy goes along with taking those classic cocktails and giving them an updated fresh twist, using organic and fresh ingredients to impart the flavors. Using more premium alcohols, bitters and things like that.

Give us a few examples of how you’ve updated old standards. Manhattans I’ve updated with combinations of different bitters. I’m experimenting at home with making my own bitters, which I hope to impart here eventually. And through my travels … one particular drink that falls on our menu is my Georgia Collins, which I use whiskey and fresh, white peach puree from Napa, and fresh-made sweet and sour.

Since you lived there for 10 years, are you a fan of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta?” I have watched a little bit.

What do you typically order? I am a very indigenous drinker. I drink all across the board. When I go to an Irish bar, I drink Guinness and Jameson. When I go out to a nice restaurant, I like to start out with a nice clean martini. I am really into wine, so when in Wine Country.

The Chrysanthemum

  • Two parts dry vermouth
  • One part Benedictine
  • 7-8 dashes of Fee Brothers West Indian orange bitters
  • Few drops of absinthe

Coat Champagne glass with the drops of absinthe and add bitters. Mix up vermouth and Benedictine, separately, in a mixing glass. Pour into glass. Top with Champagne. Garnish with an orange twist.

 

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