Enjoy good conversation, history lesson at Big 4

Stepping into this bar atop Nob Hill is like turning back the clock to an era when the four men responsible for financing the Central Pacific Railroad — C.P. Huntington, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins and Charles Crocker — reigned supreme and lived in nearby mansions (the railroad was part of the First Transcontinental Railroad). The dark wood paneling, green leather banquettes, live piano music and fireplace evoke an old-school, old-money men's club atmosphere: refined, traditional and sophisticated, a holdover from a more elegant era. At the cozy bar, longtime bartender Jeffrey Crolius regales locals, tourists and luminaries staying at the adjoining Huntington Hotel with interesting details about the bar's history. It's worth a trip just to see the old photographs and other historical objects covering the walls, especially for history buffs.

What makes a good bartender? As exciting as mixology is, it plays second fiddle to personality. Ultimately, people sit at the bar for conversation. I don't care how dead it is, I always meet somebody that's interesting.

What famous people have come in? I was star-struck to see Mario Lemieux, the hockey player. Gore Vidal, Clint Eastwood. One of the nicest was Michael Stipe, REM's singer, when he was in town recording an album. He brought his own tea. We talked for about three hours. He was really articulate, interesting and interested in what I had to say.

What bars do you like? I like the classics: Tosca, Brazen Head; the Empress of China has a nice bar. If there's a TV behind the bar, it's a deal killer. But I do like Giordano's sports bar in North Beach. I like classic hotel bars like the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel in New York.

What do you drink? I could live on Champagne, but I have been known to mix pitchers of Negronis. I love going to places and trying new drinks.

What was your biggest tip? Almost $1,000 from a guy who was throwing a lot of cash around. He was an obese guy who worked for Blackwater.

What's the most unusual experience you've had bartending here? Two Barbie dolls with inflated lips from L.A. were at the bar because the guy they were with, Vince Neil from Mötley Crüe, wouldn't answer his hotel room door because he was with another woman. Then Neil walks in in boxer shorts, a wife-beater T-shirt, stocking feet and some pretty scary tattoos. Tommy Lee was nice. The girls didn't pay for their drinks so the hotel manager told them to leave. They came back later trying to hit up old guys for a place to stay. A fistfight broke out while the band was here and tables got knocked over.

Rosé Gold Spike

• 1 &frac34 oz. Junipero gin

• ½ oz. St. Germain liqueur

• 3 oz. rosé sparkling wine

• Orange rind

• Cloves

Stir gin and St. Germain together with ice. Strain into Champagne flute and top with rosé sparkling wine. Garnish with orange-rind strip studded with four cloves to commemorate the Big 4.


1075 California St.

(415) 771-1140


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