Bartender Ventura Garcia has worked at Blackbird for five years, and sometimes, famous people happen to drop in. (Saul Sugarman/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Meet your mixologist and a smoking cocktail

“I like to experiment, especially with my vodka drinkers.”

Meet Your Mixologist: Ventura Garcia

Blackbird, a moderately lit atmospheric bar on Market Street near Church, serves up aromatic mixed drinks set against a speakeasy vibe, with lots of raw wooden surfaces, worn leather stools, exposed light bulbs, and barrels set up as tables.

A rentable gathering area is tucked away at the end of the bar, complete with a pool table and photo booth. Now entering its 11th year of business, the queer-owned venue draws a diverse mix of people, with a recent trend toward a blossoming tech crowd, said resident bartender Ventura Garcia.

Having worked at Blackbird for five years, Ventura said the keys to the bar’s success are its ambiance and beverage presentation, and teaching newbie customers about the craft cocktail experience. He walked me through how to make its popular drink “Fire Walk With Me,” made distinctive with a blend of light and dark spirits, and a smoking piece of sage clipped to the rim of the glass.

One of the most popular cocktail at Blackbird is garnished with smoking sage. (Saul Sugarman/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Bar information:

2124 Market St., (415) 872-5310

He also answered some of the questions I was curious about.

What makes this cocktail distinctive? Smoking sage. The sage leaf is lit on fire before it is clipped to the glass. The drink blends a dark and light spirit, which takes it a step away from being a Manhattan or Old Fashioned. This recipe introduces a customer to Aquavit, essentially a Scandinavian version of gin. It’s a gin sans juniper and with caraway.

What makes a good bartender? I think it’s about how approachable you are and how educated you are about making cocktails. That way you don’t get frustrated with people and you can navigate them into what they want to have.

How do you like to work with customers? I like to experiment, especially with my vodka drinkers. I call vodka the poultry of the alcohol world: you can dress it with any flavor you like. So in a simple vodka soda, for example, make a gimlet instead.

Bartender Ventura Garcia at Blackbird. (Saul Sugarman/Special to S.F. Examiner)

What famous people have come in? John Waters, he gave me a tramp stamp. I wanted his autograph but did not have anything for him to sign, so he signed my lower back. I played pool with Sam Rockwell when I was a barback here. Michael Fassbender.

What’s the most unusual thing you’ve seen at Blackbird? Funny thing last Saturday, the internet went down. So we saw the whole bar, all these people without cash not knowing where to go and what to do. The data was all down and all the ATMs around us were down. It was kind of an interesting thing to be in a tech savvy world with no internet and see how people dealt with that.

What other bars do you like? Community bars like Churchill (198 Church St.), Last Rites (718 14th St.), and Pilsner Inn (225 Church St.). We try to be a neighborhood bar like those bars. We gotta watch each other’s backs.

Fire Walk With Me

• 2 oz. Four Roses Bourbon

• 1 oz. St. Raphaël Kina

• 1/4 oz. Svöl Aquavit

• 1/8 oz. Chinot Amaro

• 2 dashes of Mole bitters

• Piece of sage

Combine ingredients into a mixing glass, add ice and stir. Pour the cocktail mixture into another glass with a large cube of ice, and garnish with a piece of smoking sage.

Saul Sugarman is a San Francisco-based writer, event producer, and apparel designer. His drinks column will appear every other Sunday in the Examiner. He is a guest columnist and his opinions are not necessarily that of the Examiner.

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