Meet Your Mixologist: Craig Lane, Farallon

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? Andwhat lessons have they learned along the way? In this Examiner weekly feature, we talk to some of our local bartenders to find out.

Farallon

450 Post St., San Francisco, 94102; (415) 956-6969; www.farallonrestaurant.com

It’s not like we just stop in Farallon to wash down a hard day at the office with a good martini. We’ve always thought of this as a place where you take first dates and potential business partners. It is, after all, a James Beard Award-winning eatery, and it’s consistently ranked the No. 2 restaurant in San Francisco. So, unless we’re wearing our pearls, we tend to walk on by. But then you meet resident bartender Craig Lane, and you start to ask yourself, “Why aren’t I here more often?” We got to taste Lane’s creations and were impressed, but where he really excels is in the personality department. He’s the definition of sweetheart and a darn good storyteller. He said he once got to serve the infamous Tom Waits, except Waits had stopped drinking a long time ago, and Lane could only impress him with a cup of black tea.

Where are you from? I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and moved out here in October ’98. I feel pretty comfortable with this being my home now. It’s kind of funny. I didn’t know anything about the dot-com boom or anything when I moved out here.

What do you miss about Cleveland? I sometimes miss thunderstorms and maybe the first snow. But after six months of snow, you don’t miss it.

How’d you get into bartending? I had a manager suggest it. He thought I’d be good at it.

Where was that? That was the Inn at Hunters’ Hollow in Chagrin Falls, Ohio; one of those affluent white suburbs. There’s endless numbers of them in the Midwest. I was abusboy who aspired to be a server. So I moved up the ranks and the manager said, “I think you’d make a better bartender.” And he was right.

I’ve noticed each drink on your menu is attributed to a specific location or publication. Why is that? They’re taken from old recipe books. For instance, the Pisco Punch is listed as being from a bar in San Francisco, but it’s from Jerry Thomas, who was one of the first cocktail writers. He wrote for Esquire in the ’30s. All these guys around town do these twists on classics, but they all have a foundation in the vintage cocktail spirits. I just felt like those drinks have more layers of flavor, more nuances.

I take it this restaurant is named after the Farallon Islands. It is.

You realize that’s the least hospitable place on Earth. Have you ever been? I haven’t, but [wine director] Pete Palmer coordinates a trip every year for the staff and charters a cruise and goes out there to do whale-watching.

Since this is a seafood restaurant, what’s your favorite crustacean? Hmm. Well, I’d say clams, but that’s a mussel.

OK, favorite seafood? Clams in a spicy black bean broth.

Given the conflicted feelings surrounding Muni, I’ve always felt that having an onboard bar would smooth over a lot of hard feelings. What would you serve on the 38-Geary? Straight whiskey; Jack Daniels. It’s the people’s bus.

The 45-Union? Pomegranate Martini.

The 2-Clement? A dry sherry. The people are very civilized on the 2.

What about the 5-Fulton? Oh, that’s a good cross-section of The City. It goes from the ocean to downtown.

Well, inbound, what would you serve? A dry martini for the politicians.

Outbound? A rum punch.

Featured Recipe

Tropical Gin Fizz

» 2 ozs. Miller’s Gin

» 1 oz. Fresh-squeezed lime

» 1 oz. Pineapple gum

» ½ oz. Cream

» 1 egg white

» Dash of orange blossom water

Dry shake first to get a creamy, foamy head, then shake a second time with ice. Serve in a Champagne coup and add a couple of drops of Peychaud Bitters on top.

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