Meet your mixologist: Gabe Cothes

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.

Last fall, the owners of Town Hall opened their second blockbuster — bustling downtown favorite Salt House. A stylish set packs the communal table at the bar for after-work drinks, then digs into plates of oysters and pepper-rubbed steak for dinner. Most nights, spirited Santa Cruz native Gabe Cothes tends the bar. “People here are into the classic cocktails, like martinis,” he tells us. We resisted the urge to order ours shaken, not stirred.

Salt House

545 Mission St., San Francisco

415-543-8900, www.salthousesf.com

So how long have you been at Salt House? About eight months, since we opened.

What’s with the name Salt House? When the owners were looking for a concept, they visited a gastropub in England named Salt House and loved the feel of it, so they wanted to bring that back to S.F.

Keeping on the salt theme, do you have a favorite salt-rimmed cocktail? The Salty Dog. It’s justa classic.

Where else have you bartended? Before Salt House, I was working for a furniture company, but before that I’d worked at Fly Trap and Ristorante Umbria. I’ve been tending bar since college.

Can you predict what drink customers are going to order? Yes.

How often are you right? All the time. Women who’ve been working all day like a glass of white wine; it’s the wonderful old-school Herb Caen types who order the martinis.

So what’s your poison? During the day, it’s always Citron and soda. At night during the summer, vodka rocks or tequila with a little lime. In the winter, I switch to darker alcohol like Maker’s Mark.

What drinks do you mix for friends? If it’s a barbecue, definitely margaritas. I also make my friends guinea pigs for new drinks.

Where might we spot you on a night off? Either catching live music or nursing a hangover. Recently I saw The Good, The Bad and The Queen at the Regency.

Any bars you frequent? The House of Shields, 540 Club, the patio at Zeitgeist. Anywhere where there’s a familiar face, really.

Who would you most like to share a cocktail with? George Hamilton.

Why? Because I can’t think of anyone better.

What’s the worst pickup line you’ve heard at a bar? I can’t think of one that I haven’t used myself.

So do you think Paris Hilton should go to jail? She deserves community service. She’d look good in an orange jumpsuit.

What do you think about Britney’s comeback? I can’t get enough of her. iPod, ringtone, you name it.

Featured Recipe

Old Cubano

» Combine 1.5 ounces rum, ¾ ounce lime juice, a dash of bitters, ¾ ounce simple syrup and a handful of mint leaves in a shaker.

» Shake vigorously.

» Strain into a champagne flute.

» Top with ½ ounce brut champagne or sparkling wine and garnish with a lime twist (optional).

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