Bartender Matt Ross enjoys a crowd at San Francisco's Waterbar

While many restaurants on The Embarcadero offer fine views of San Francisco Bay, few can match the Waterbar’s sophisticated ambience. Now that summer has finally arrived, enjoying cocktails on the popular outdoor Bayfront patio is particularly appealing, especially before or after a Giants game at nearby AT&T Park. Inside, the elevated, horseshoe-shaped raw bar is usually crowded with locals and tourists alike. When night falls and you look out at the lights of the Bay Bridge hovering right above, it feels like being in a movie. There’s also the dramatic, twin floor-to-ceiling circular aquariums filled with fish swimming around pier pilings and a massive, teal-colored eel that regularly makes a 10 p.m. appearance. Restaurateur Pat Kuleto spent $20 million building Waterbar and the steak house next door, Epic, in 2008. And it shows. Bartender Matt Ross says anytime the weather forecast is above 70 degrees, it guarantees a crowd.

Waterbar, 399 The Embarcadero, (415) 284-9922, www.waterbarsf.com

What inspired the drink Thorn in My Side? The first time I tasted Four Roses bourbon, I loved it. I wanted to try something different, but not with vermouth, so I used Pimm’s Cup. And Benedictine is one of the most complementary liquors. It tastes good with everything — vodka, gin. It’s like a Manhattan but not.

What’s the crowd like? Concierges are recommending us now, so we get tourists, but a lot of locals come in, too.

Where else have you worked? I started at Zuni, then worked at Michael Mina and the Americano in the Hotel Vitale.

How did you become a bartender?
I came from New Hampshire and worked as a runner at the Pacific Stock Exchange. I decided to become a bartender, so I went to bartending school. But unless you’re a really cute girl, you won’t get hired without experience, so I went back to New Hampshire and worked in a New England lobster house. Then I came back here and a friend helped get me hired at Zuni.

What bartenders do you admire? Boris Sacie. He trained me at Michael Mina and won the record for making the most cocktails in an hour. He put me through boot camp for two months and made me the bartender I am today.

What bars do you like? Rickhouse. The Burritt Room because the bartenders are good and the drinks are great. Tunnel Top because it’s near where I live and there’s lots of locals. La Mar at Pier 1, which has the best pisco sour in The City. The Horseshoe Tavern, which calls itself the “non-Marina Marina bar.” I hate Alembic because the service is slow, there’s no sense of urgency, the bartenders are very uninviting — they don’t smile.

What’s the most popular drink here? French Bulldog, which has Grey Goose vodka and St. Germain elderflower liqueur.

What do you like about bartending? I just like putting my head down and making drinks. Working at the service bar, doing high-volume. My strong point is speed, making things fast. Also, consistency — every drink I make tastes the same as the last 20 I made like it. I hate Cosmos that taste different all the time.

What famous people have come in? Nomar Garciaparra, who played shortstop for the Boston Red Sox. He came in when they were in town to play the Giants. Tom Hanks. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili [who play for the San Antonio Spurs]. Edgar Renteria. He came in after the World Series with friends and family after the kitchen closed. The restaurant made special pages for him, which he signed for the staff. We also made a special drink for him with the Giants’ colors, orange and black, with dark rum and OJ. We called it The Torture.

Thorn in My Side

 

  • 2 oz. Four Roses bourbon
  • ¾ oz. Benedictine
  • ½ oz. Pimm’s Cup
  • Dash of Angostura bitters

Mix ingredients together with ice. Strain into martini glass. Garnish with orange peel.

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