We’ve always considered ourselves ambassadors of sorts, aptly representing San Francisco’s cocktail connoisseurs; building relationships with bars, lounges and drink menus. Our most recent sojourn brought us to Brendan Mainini, 29, the bartender at Ambassador in the increasingly hip TenderNob. With its 1950s nightclub décor, deep leather booths, meticulous classic cocktail menu and heavy red wallpaper, we’ve never felt more diplomatic. Mainini has lived in the Bay Area all his life and got into bartending accidentally, climbing the food industry ladder from busboy to server to bartender. He got a foothold on that first rung at Rico’s, the teeny-bopper club once located at 78 Minna. He’s come a long way since those days, fielding a crowd known for its deep pockets and impeccable style. Stunning interior aside, the Ambassador shows it’s down-to-earth side with a killer happy hour featuring generously discounted cocktails and upscale pub grub.
673 Geary St., San Francisco; (415) 563-8192; www.ambassador415.com
What do you typically order? I like American whiskies for the most part. Bourbon, rye … I drink a lot of ryes. If I’m going to order a cocktail, it’ll be a Sazerac. I don’t like anything too over the top or too complex, where you can’t taste the spirit. My sweet tooth isn’t quite what it was.
So no Polynesian places for you? We were just at Trad’r Sam and have to admit we liked what we got. Oh, I go to Forbidden Island [in Alameda] now and then.
What’s the strangest cocktail you’ve ever made? I’ve never understood the whole cognac and apple juice phase, or with pineapple juice. That’s more of a club thing, but I never understood it.
If you could serve a drink to anyone, who would it be? I don’t know much about him, but Ernest Hemingway. I think Tom Waits would be cool, too. Tom Waits would be fun to serve a shot of whiskey to, and Ernest Hemingway an ice-cold daiquiri.
What’s the best tip you’ve ever gotten? I can’t really say. I guess when someone gives you $100 it’s kind of flattering. They’re either really drunk or had a good time.
Since this place is so inspired by the Rat Pack, if you could have a drink with one Rat Packer, who would it be? Sammy Davis Jr. I think he was the best singer.
Tell me about your drink menu. We’re more partial to classic cocktails, but we do have some cocktails that are geared toward Cosmo drinkers.
What’s the drink you make most? After 11 p.m., we serve more Red Bulls and vodka than anything else. People are weird. If I’m fading, I just drink a ton of water.
What do you feel is an overlooked or underrated cocktail? I think gin generally has a bad name, and it deserves a better chance. So many people just tried really poor spirits at a young age. Drinks like [those on the Ambassador menu] are a great example of how good gin drinks can be.
Does anyone ever ask for gin and juice? No. I haven’t had that asked for here. When it comes to cocktails, it’s our happy-hour crowd that orders from the drink menu.
Say, how many chandeliers hang from the ceiling here? Thirty one. We constructed them all. They came in strands and we had to assemble them. That big one in the center, we had to assemble it in the mezzanine.
Since this place is called the Ambassador, if you could be the ambassador to any country, which would you choose? You got the wrong guy. I’m not political in any sense.
– 1½ oz. of Martin Miller gin
– ¼ oz. maraschino liqueur
– ½ oz. limoncello
– Heavy splash of freshly squeezed lemon
Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into a cocktail glass. Top with sparkling wine.