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.
Max’s 540 Club
540 Clement St., San Francisco
(415) 752-7276, www.540-club.com
It’s been a long time since we’ve ever bellied up to the bar before noon, but there we were on a fine Sunday morning, with resident bartender Curtis Sheppard, sipping Chartreuse and munching on Twizzlers. One of a dying breed, Max’s 540 Club is an old-school bar that opens at 11 a.m. Chartreuse, you ask? Well, how could we not, since it goes through 1,200 bottles of the green stuff each year. Surely, Sheppard is exaggerating? A quick trip to the Chartreuse Liqueurs Web site (www.chartreuse.fr) confirms that Sheppard speaks the truth. It’s under the “Chartreuse Trivia” section. Max’s 540 Club is the quintessential neighborhood bar, pulling in every kind of customer, such as the two hipsters enjoying a beer before catching a Sunday matinee, or the dashing gent who quietly sipped his Old Crow whiskey. Its annual Catholic School Girl Karaoke event has garnered the bar its fair share of awards, though our favorite event will always be the rockabilly wedding reception we spied one day while running errands.
So how on earth did you become known for serving Chartreuse? I couldn’t tell you how it started. We’re on their actual Web site. We get people inquiring about it from all over the world. It’s definitely a fan and staff favorite.
What would you say is your clientele’s typical morning drink? We have everything from the nice whiskey drinkers to those who just want a beer. I take great pride in my Bloody Marys. Everybody’s got their poison.
Who was Max? I don’t think he was anyone. That’s what I’ve heard. This bar has been here since 1941. It’s a great neighborhood bar.
How long have you been bartending? Over 12 years. I started out in Southern California and then bartended in Florida. I was in New England for seven years, then Oregon, and then I came down here.
Where are you from in Southern California? Huntington Beach, but my father is from The City and he raised me to root for the Bay Area and hate L.A.
So you’re a 49ers fan? There’s something to be said for being loyal.
Do you think Tom Brady is really injured? Regardless of what I think, I’d pretend I’m not.
Who are you going to root for in the Super Bowl? I’m kind of torn. I have a lot of friends from my time in New England, but I’m kind of an NFC guy and would get a good chuckle if [New England] went 18-0 and just lost it.
Do you think it’s fair that Jessica Simpson has taken so much flak for Tony Romo’s playing mishaps? I don’t think it’s fair and really, why do I care? It has nothing to do with the price of tea in China.
What’s the most unusual drink you’ve served? Every now and then I get someone who calls out something that hasn’t been made in 10 years, like a Grasshopper, or a Creamsicle, or a Pink Squirrel. Thank god we don’t have a blender.
Do you have any pet peeves? Lipstick. It’s my nemesis.
On lips? Or on the glasses? On the glasses. I’m kind of a neurotic. I’m a clean freak. It’s more of a bartending thing.
Can you attach a personality to certain drink orders? There’s stereotypes for a reason. It’s kind of like that theory where people look like their pets.
» Pour Chartreuse into a shot glass.
» Down, or sip slowly with a ginger ale back.