Meet Your Mixologist: H. Joseph Ehrmann, Elixir

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.


3200 16th St., San Francisco; (415) 552-1633;

Some of you might remember Elixir’s former incarnation, a dodgy little bar called Jack’s Elixir known for its generous beer selection and for smelling like urine. We invite you to wipe away the past and get a fresh start. That’s exactly what H. Joseph Ehrmann did. He’s Elixir’s newest proprietor and is surely working his way toward a key to The City. Virtually everyone knows “H,” and it’s no wonder why. The guy has worked in practically every industry. He’s even tried his hand at contract work, which came in, well, handy when he renovated Elixir. Besides running Elixir, which he says was the first bar to be certified by The City as a green business and includes an entirely organic cocktail menu, he’s a consultant to Square One Vodka and is making over J.W. Marriott’s beverage program. We anticipate a mayoral run any day now.

Is your name really H? The “H” stands for Harold, my father’s name and my grandfather’s name. People started calling me H, and it stuck.

Where are you from? Originally, New Jersey. I left there after high school and never went back. I went to college in Boston and then moved to Vail, [Colo.], which is where I started bartending. I was there for four years. Then I went to Phoenix and did my MBA. I came back here at the tail-end of the dot-com boom and got into software, trying to use my MBA in the real world. I was in San Jose until I lost my job and started bartending over at the Fishbowl, and at the same time was building a soup company with a friend of mine.

When did you take over this place? In 2003 I bought this place. It used to be Jack’s Elixir and had 50 beers on draft.

Have you always been a serial entrepreneur? Before I legally had a paper route, I shared a paper route with my friend, helping him deliver the papers.

Is there a cocktail that you detest making? A Long Island Iced Tea. It’s just a different mentality.

What’s this about a “guest bartending night”? Guest bartending is not a new concept, but by adding the charity element you increase the integrity of the tipping. It almost eliminates the greed aspect of it. When it becomes a charity, it’s just kind of good karma. Each year we raise between $10,000 and $15,000 for charities. The average bartender makes between $300 and $600 for a charity.

What’s the best cocktail on the menu here? [The Country Thyme Lemonade] is one of my favorites. It’s a fully organic cocktail made with all local ingredients, and it has a nice balance between sweet and sour. It appeals to all the senses; great color, aromatic.

If you could serve a drink to anyone, who would it be? Norm from “Cheers.”

What would you serve him? I was just talking about this. … The first episode where Rebecca is the new manager, and Sam’s coming back, and she’s hired a hotshot encyclopedic bartender, who she fired Woody to make room for. For Woody to get his job back, he needs to stump the new guy. Norm says, “I’ll have a Screaming Viking.” The bartender doesn’t know what it is, but Woody asks, “Do you like your cucumber bruised or unbruised?” I’d like to make that for Norm.

OK, I have to ask, since you’re from New Jersey: Bruce Springsteen or Bon Jovi? I was a Bruce fan when Bon Jovi was a Bruce fan.

Featured drink: Country Thyme Lemonade


» Fresh organic thyme

» 1 organic lemon

» Handful organic blueberries

» 1½ ounces vodka

» Organic agave nectar

Cut lemon in half, leave peel on. Cut one half of the lemon into pieces. Put it in bottom of 16-ounce mixing cup. Put handful of fresh, organic blueberries over that. Muddle together. Add vodka, dash of agave nectar. Fill rest of cup with ice. Take a piece of thyme, give it a good slap to release oils. Put thyme in bottom of glass with ice. Shake glass with lemon juice, blueberry and vodka mixture. Pour into old-fashioned glass. Garnish with thyme.

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