Mike Koozmin/2013 S.F. Examiner file photoBartender Christian Clark of Big made this drink

Big is conjuring up customized cocktails

This is cocktail heaven — a place where there is no menu, just bliss. At Big, cocktail artisans craft drinks based on your mood; your spirit of choice; or what kind of funky goblet, coupe or crystal you’d like it poured into. It’s part art, part science, part telepathy. And it’s a throwback to the glory days behind the stick. “That’s exactly what we’re doing here: pouring what makes people happy,” said bartender Christian Clark. The warm, candlelit bar with white marble countertops is anchored by a plethora of fruits and herbs at each end. Billowing red velvet decorates the ceiling while the room is paneled in navy and gold that frames portraits of old America. Sadly, the building that Big is in was recently sold to the Marriott, which means the small nook that’s been open for just more than a year has to close June 14.

The system of ordering is different than any other I’ve seen. Tell me more about Big’s approach.

Big’s whole concept is 1890. At the turn of the century, most bars didn’t have set menus. When craft bartending came around, they dealt more with customers’ palates. Creating on the spot can be a challenge. Here, we embrace it.

What was the most awkward mood you’ve seen from a customer and what did you make them?

I had a guy who really couldn’t decide. So I snapped at him and told him, “What’s the first word that comes to your mind?” He told me “silky.” Textures are something I can work with. I ended up making him a Flip. He loved it. There’s this guy who comes around who got into the whole inspirational way of ordering. He told us “Swiss Alps.” The first thing that came to mind was absinthe. So I did something with Bols Genever, grapefruit, Kina Lillet, Tempus Fugit and absinthe.

You seem to be part artisan, part doctor and part psychiatrist.

I think that’s always been part of the job of a bartender. It’s one of the jobs where people come to you who would otherwise go to a doctor or a friend. It takes you to another place.

What kind of clientele do you come across?

It’s usually a good mix of industry people and a mix of techie, geeky people. They really love the creative aspect of it. That’s what I love about this job — talking about the history and the creative inspiration behind the drink.

Where do you like to drink?

I usually go to my friends’ bars. Local Edition. Tradition. Also, I dig the back bar at Dalva. One of my old standbys is The Alembic. I go to Slanted Door a lot. I like tropical drinks.

DRINK INSPIRATION: Summer night

  • 2 oz. Prunier cognac
  • ¾ oz. fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ oz. dry curacao
  • ¼ oz. Benedictine

Shake and strain into small flute or sherry glass. Top with sparkling wine. For the rim of the glass, grind together sage, a pinch of kosher salt and a sugar cube. Garnish with grapefruit “crusta” and fresh sage leaves.

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