In a saloon town such as San Francisco, the bartender plays a crucial role. Confessor, friend, sounding board — the man or woman behind the plank sees to it that our needs are met with elegance, grace and often wit. They see humanity at its best and most convivial, but also offer a nod and a welcome to the lonely. But what do they see when they look at us? What are the tricks of their trade? And what lessons have they learned along the way? In this Examiner weekly feature, we talk to some of our local bartenders to find out.
MAMACITA: We’ve noticed the new gustiness in the gales that blow down Mission Street beginning at 3 p.m., and though freshly brewed tea calls out to us, we just can’t pass up an ice-cold margarita, especially one made by Jamal Blake-Williams, Mamacita’s master of the margarita. A Bay Area native, Blake-Williams was born and raised in Marin County and left briefly to study business management at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where he broke into the bar service industry at Old Chicago’s, a sports bar. After margaritas by Blake-Williams, we left with a parting gift: an empty bottle of Clase Azul Reposado tequila. When you finish the prettily painted ceramic bottle, you get to take it home with you. We didn’t actually finish the bottle; someone else did. Now if we can only get one more for a centerpiece for the next holiday dinner — these bottles make great candlestick holders. 2317 Chestnut St.,S.F., (415) 346-8494, www.mamacitasf.com
We’ve always wondered about the etiquette concerning salt on the rim. Is salt on the rim frowned upon? I drink mine without salt.
Well, what’s the salt supposed to do? In Mexico, there was an epidemic that sickened the population: a bad fever. Doctors gave patients tequila with a little bit of salt and lime, as medicine. I believe it was to cover up the taste of the tequila. In today’s society, people just love sodium.
So is it proper to sip from the straw and take a small lick of the salt, or lick the salt away completely, then sip? Either way is fine. Some people sip, then lick, others lick all the way around. I just discourage people from drinking it frozen.
What’s your take on flavored margaritas? I think it’s fine as long as it’s made from all natural ingredients. We have a pomegranate margarita that uses pomegranate-infused tequila.
What’s the best tip you’ve ever gotten? Take every customer as they come. Never get too discouraged.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing? Running a fashion company or owning my own bar.
Fashion? I was in fashion school, at FIDM [The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising].
Who is the best-dressed person out there right now? Pharrell Williams. He’s a singer, rapper and producer of The Neptunes. He mixes classic style with street culture.
Be honest with us: Do you serve the better-dressed people first? No. First come, first served. I definitely notice them, but that doesn’t mean they get served first.
Who’s the worst-dressed person? Adam Sandler. There’s no real rhyme or reason to what he wears, not that I don’t love and respect his work.
What’s the strangest drink you’ve ever served? I always think that vodka and Coke is weird. It’s a really weird mixture of taste.
Why is it, when we’re off-duty so to speak, we run into a number of bartenders sporting major attitudes? For some reason, they feel they’ve hit a plateau of restaurant eliteness.
How do we combat that? Kill ’em with kindness.
» Equal parts Herradura Silver and house-made margarita mix.(At Mamacita, margarita mix includes fresh lime, agave nectar and water.)
Shake tequila and mix; pour over ice. Always serve margarita on the rocks and always shaken.