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.
Writer’s Vice Bar and Lounge
562 Sutter St. (inside the Hotel Rex), (415) 433-4434
What fun we had with bartender Dave Wagner and out-of-towners Connie and Keli Ollis who were visiting our fine city from Greenville, S.C. Wagner, who has been pouring drinks in and around the Bay Area for decades, regaled us with stories of The City’s swinging ’60s and swaggering ’70s, all the while shaking up a slew of great cocktails. Before we knew it, a small crowd of tourists and regulars had surrounded the bar, located at the back of a cozy lounge, decked out in plump leather chairs, and enough artwork and bookcases that add to the air of a proper writers’ salon.
How long have you been doing what you do? Since 1979.
You’ve made us the bar’s signature cocktail, but what’s your signature cocktail? Oliver’s Twist. It’s pineapple juice, Absolut vanilla vodka, pour in some Chambord. … I just kind of threw it together one day.
This is excellent. I wish I was by a swimming pool. Have you read “Oliver Twist”? Parts of it. I think the movie was easier.
You certainly know your way around the wines here. Are you a food and wine lover? I’m not necessarily dedicated to it. Growing up in The City, one of my first recollections is going down to Fisherman’s Wharf and getting seafood. It was so inexpensive in those days, the ’50s and ’60s. It did not have all the commercialism it does now. We used to go over to Westlake Joe’s too. And the Cliff House, that was a must. I still recommend that place a lot. Sutro Baths, that’s where all the people in The City would go swim and Playland at the Beach. Growing up in San Francisco in that era was just fabulous. The City was just buzzing.
So seeing as how this place is called the Writer’s Vice Bar, what’s your vice? I think I’m over all my vices. Maybe that I’m a sports junkie. My wild drinking days are way behind me, especially growing up here in the ’60s.
Have you read “Tales of the City”? No.
What bars did you hang out at back then? The Odyssey Room at the Laurel Lodge on California and Presidio. Oh, that’s the G Bar now. I didn’t even know that. The Blue Crystal on 21st and Taraval. They also had a bar called the Instant Replay. It was on Geary. And naturally, the Last Day Saloon. Dave [Daher], who opened the Last Day Saloon, had over 9,000 artists over that period of years. The Last Laugh was next door and they didn’t have a liquor license, so the [comics] would come over and get drinks at the Last Day. So Robin Williams, Greg Proops and even Paula Poundstone came over. [Daher] was a year ahead of me in high school. We went to Lincoln High.
When you pour yourself a drink, what is it? A good Crown Royal on the rocks. I really enjoy the craftsbeer we have now; hearty rich beers. Moonlight Brewery out of Fulton has a specialty beer that is a rich dark beer and it’s called Death and Taxes.
» Two parts Smirnoff Orange
» Squeeze of fresh lime
» Splash of orange juice
» Splash of cranberry juice
» Shaken into a martini glass