Evan Ducharme/Special to The S.f. ExaminerWill Herrera

Capturing the end of the line at Café Terminus

This is no oasis bar trying to transport you into another time or another place. Located at the base of California and Market streets, just steps away from multiple terminal stations, this is a place that captures its surroundings. The narrow hall invites everyone from the busy downtown worker looking for a quick espresso and amaro to the cocktailing tourist waiting to board the next cable car. But we were in no rush. We sat, sipping absinthe and pastis, watching waves of locals and visitors stop in for a good time, not a long time. We spoke with bartender Will Herrera, who dons a straw fedora, with Lucky Strikes in his chest pocket and a coconut smile. He’s walking this plank for life.

Tell me about this place. Terminus was inspired by Eric Passetti after I bought him a vintage map of the transit lines of Rome. He found love with their use of the word “terminus,” which essentially means “the end of the line” for each of their stations. Early on he had a notion that he wanted to open a bar close to, or at, a terminus. Lo and behold, this is the greatest terminus in the city. With the end of the California line and the BART lines, it’s all ending and beginning right here.

That’s something different. The name itself is meant to reflect something temporary; something fast, something transient. A place you can come in quickly and leave with a strong influence of Italian and French underground train stations, where you’ll often see places that service people on the go. A lot of life happens in those small minutes.

I hear you’ve got a knack for absinthe, especially in your Tabu cocktail. I’ve done a lot of work researching absinthe cocktails. And we found very few. You can’t parallel the fennel, licorice and anise flavors of absinthe; you have to build around them. Absinthe is in a class of its own. You can’t seal the flavor off like you would gin and citrus, whiskey and vermouth. Absinthe just isn’t friendly in that way. We found that pepper works really well with this cocktail. What works well with pepper? Strawberries. What works well with strawberries? Nuts. So it became a natural progression of flavors that we found works off of another. It’s layered, unorthodox and changed our perspective of the cocktail.

What is the newest trend in the cocktail world? If there should be a trend, it should be the average Joe mixologist. You see average dive bars where people are asking the dive bar bartender for a Rob Roy or a daiquiri. That’s becoming more commonplace in our drinking culture. I’m truly proud that more of us are expanding our repertoire to cater to more and more people in every single drinking environment. Not just the posh. Not just the trendy. Not just the up and up. It’s the everyday drinker that can drink something exquisite under whatever umbrella they care to drink under. I hope that that becomes even more of a trend.

What’s the biggest thing that you’ve learned about this industry? We are the people that help extract the nectar of society. Life happens here.

Are you in this thing for life? I’m a bartender who does this as an occupation, as a craft. When I was in college, I needed to pay the bills to sustain my way of life so that I could continue being educated. Little did I know, I was being educated in a different way. I’ve always fell back on bartending. I remember deciding that this business has always been there for me; it’s gotten me this far. Bartending is an American staple. Bars are a part of who we are as a civilization. I’ve come to that conclusion and embraced it.

TABU

1½ oz. absinthe

1 oz. dry vermouth

½ oz. orgeat syrup

½ oz. creme de fraise

½ oz. lemon juice

Shake with vigor and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with fresh strawberry.

BAR INFO:

Cafe Terminus

8 California St.

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