Meet your mixologist: Al Poole

About the series: 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.

The Ramp

855 China Basin St., San Francisco, (415) 621-2378

Outdoor barhopping is at a premium in San Francisco. Of course, you’ll find unimpressive interior patios everywhere. But at The Ramp, with its open-air seating, even San Francisco’s private-jet owners hunker down with hot dogs and margaritas. Al Poole has tended bar at this dog-eared dive from its earliest beginnings. Order a Bloody Mary from him before summer’s end. That’s when Al heads to Panama, where he’ll recline for six months at his second home: a boat.

So how long have you been working here? Twenty-two years, since day one of the current ownership. But I only work six months during the summer, then I’m off on my sailboat. I’ve been doing that for the last 14 years.

What’s this place known for, drink-wise? Our Bloody Marys. We go through about 50 gallons in a week.

Are they spicy? Very spicy.

How’d you get in the bartending biz? I came and started hanging out here and the owner of the boatyard was getting ready to buy the restaurant. He liked me and the place was never operated at night, and so when he asked me to be a bartender, I said “sure.” In those days, the biggest challenge was getting people to the place.

How’d you do it? It started with music on Sunday afternoons. Jazz bands. I contacted some guys I knew because I used to be a musician as well. These guys put together top-flight musicians and that’s what really put us on the map. This is a really magical place because it’s real.

How has this place changed in the last 20 or so years? Other than the physical changes, in the early days, our clients were the commercial fishermen and the ironworkers from the [Hunters Point] shipyards. Then we got eclectic because people who were in music discovered [The Ramp]. We started to get young people because we booked an oldies band that had a huge following. That’s why I stole them from Harry’s Bar. Naturally, we went through the dot-com parties as well.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve encountered since working here? I came here and I didn’t recognize the place. A dot-commer had hired a crew from Hollywood and built a jungle land with parrots, monkeys, crocodiles, huts. It lasted two hours. Then there were the “pink-slip parties” every day. And we’d watch them crying in their beers.

If you could pour a drink for anyone in the world, who would it be? Buckminster Fuller. He was a genius of the 20th century. He invented the geodesic dome. His concepts were so far ahead of his time, they still haven’t caught up with him. He changed my life. I had an opportunity once to spend six weeks with him.

What would you serve him? He’d probably drink a domestic beer.

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