A long tree-lined, roofless corridor delivers patrons into this Italian restaurant and bar. The interior furnishings, shaped like foliage and stonework, might conjure up images of set pieces from “Lord of the Rings,” while bulbous fig trees on the outdoor patio convey Old World charm. Bocce Cafe has been in North Beach for about 25 years, in the space formerly occupied by The Old Spaghetti Factory. Bartender Karwan Yuksel is originally from the Kurdish region of Turkey and was granted asylum in the U.S. because of fighting between Turkish troops and Kurds. While he says he is disabled, Yuksel has not let it prevent him from learning every aspect of the restaurant business. And in 2011, he earned a bachelor's degree in dietetics from San Francisco State University.
How did you get started in bartending? This is the place where I got interested in bartending. I practiced, got bartending books and learned. I got good enough that I've been able to teach bartending to a lot of people. I've worked at Bocce since I came to the U.S. in 2000. The owner of Bocce is my uncle.
Do you have an opinion about the protests currently taking place in Turkey? All those people demonstrating are not happy with the government. … I do agree that everybody has a right to show their reaction but not to damage their surroundings. Peaceful protest is the right of everybody.
Is your bar known for any particular drinks? When it comes to whiskey, Macallan 12 single-malt scotch, mostly ordered over ice or neat, is popular. … Customers love to order Fernet Branca shots, especially when there are birthdays or bachelor, bachelorette parties on weekends. Maker's Mark is the first choice for customers ordering Manhattans or old-fashioneds. Nowadays, I also serve a lot of Jameson's whiskey shots with beer, such as Stella Artois. Customers love to order Fernet Branca shots, especially when there are birthdays or bachelor/bachelorette parties on weekends. Also grappa and Sambuca, which are very similar to Turkish raki, are usually ordered as aperitifs. I'm often asked why Sambuca is served with three beans. I explain that one bean is for health, one is for happiness and one is for prosperity. I don't do flaming Sambuca shots. My specialty is to make flavored cocktails such as raspberry-flavored mojitos and also mango-, strawberry- or pomegranate-flavored margaritas. When asked if we have a specialty cocktail, I always suggest my Pazzo Italiano.
What do you do with yourself when you're not behind the bar? When I don't bartend, I help with managing the restaurant. I do reservations and things like that.
No, what do you do for fun? Do you have any hobbies? The hobby I have is fishing. I loved fishing back home; I used to fish every day.
Can you tell us about your disability? My left leg is actually 8 centimeters [slightly more than 3 inches] shorter than my right. I had an accident in childhood when I was 3. I fell from a balcony. We had no good access to a city or roads, no good way of dealing with broken bones. I wound up with a damaged nerve, which affected the leg's growth. I wear orthopedic shoes, but sometimes customers will see me limping behind the bar and ask what happened. In the restaurant business, I do everything. As long as my bar is fully stocked and I have everything I need, I can handle the bar by myself, no problem!
• 1 shot of Malibu rum
• Pineapple juice
• ½ oz. Disaronno amaretto
Fill rocks glass with ice and add rum. Add pineapple juice and amaretto. Garnish with cherry.
BAR INFO: 478 Green St. • (415) 981-2044 • boccecafe.com