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.
1944 Union St., San Francisco; (415) 922-9022; www.perryssf.com
Perry’s is to San Francisco as Cheers is to Boston. For 40 years, this Union Street fixture has been about as old-school as it gets. Its blue-and-white checked tablecloths, sports paraphernalia décor, classic cocktails and no-nonsense food keep its 80-something regulars and 20-something Marina-ites coming back. Even a Monday afternoon will find the sidewalk tables crammed with leisurely lunchers. We met with bartender Bill Watson, who has had enough of the Sherlock Holmes jokes, thank you very much. He knows almost everyone who walks in and has no problem getting to know the rest. When he’s not slinging Bull Shots — a Bloody Mary that replaces the traditional tomato juice with beef bouillon — he sits behind the bar and chomps on ice.
How long have you been at Perry’s? This is my second tour of duty. I was here from ’92 to ’96. Then I left for about six years and have been back here about [six] years. So, about 12 to 13 years, but it’s felt more like 15 to 20 years.
Where’d you go? Some of the managers here bought a nightclub down in SoMa, but it burned down. We were there for two or three years. Then I got into the finance biz but hated it. I got back into restaurants because I missed golfing and skiing during the week.
Who is Perry? He’s this gentleman right here in the blue shirt [points to framed picture behind bar]. And that’s his son right behind you, Perry III.
Where are you from originally? Hawaii.
How’d you get out here? I went to school up in Oregon — Oregon State. My sister lived in Palo Alto, and I would visit friends in San Francisco. When I graduated, I moved back to Hawaii, but I was trying to find something on the West Coast that was close to home. I had an old girlfriend who lived in San Francisco.
What’s the drink you serve the most? Probably vodka sodas. You got a lot of people now who are calorie-conscious.
What’s the drink you serve the least? A Negroni, Old-Fashioned, a Stinger, Brandy Alexanders.
What’s the strangest drink you’ve served? Scotch and milk. Vodka and Diet Coke, that’s really nasty. A hefeweizen with Coke.
If you could serve a drink to anyone, who would it be? Charlize Theron. Her mom shot her father when she was about 7 because he was trying to molest her. She’s a pretty tough chick. Then she gained 40 pounds for that movie [“Monster”] based on the life of Aileen Wuornos. She’s amazing.
How long have you been eating ice? Probably five or six years. Everybody tells me it’s bad for me, and apparently it’s a sign that you are sexually frustrated and iron deficient.
Who is the most interesting patron you serve? John Creighton Murray. He’s well into his 80s, and he is a violin virtuoso. He played Carnegie Hall when he was 13 or 14. He’s been coming here for years. He carries around a Stradivarius. He’s left it in cabs, and he’s so nice the cabdrivers have always brought it back.
Scratch Bloody Mary
- 1 ½ oz. vodka
- 2 oz. tomato juice
- A couple dashes of celery salt and pepper
- Three to four generous dashes of Worcestershire sauce
- A couple dashes of Tabasco
- Fresh-squeezed lemon
Over a pint glass filled with ice, add celery salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco, and then squeeze a half a lemon over the ingredients. It’s important to squeeze the lemon at this time so the spices gel together. Next add premium vodka and tomato juice.