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.
580 Sutter St., San Francisco, 94102; (415) 398-0195; www.cantinasf.com
The competition is getting tough around Union Square and Nob Hill. What with Bourbon and Branch, Rye, Swig, Tunnel Top and Cortez, it’s no wonder Cantina co-owner Duggan McDonnell is feeling the heat. He keeps a tight lid on his bar’s drink recipes: “It’s intellectual property. It’s how I make my living. I don’t give out recipes.” He eventually cut us some slack, and thankfully so, because it meant sipping the liquid delights mixed by bartender Janell Moore, one of the most articulate people we’ve come across. We’d be nervous to have a buzz around her because she’s so darn smart. Except Moore goes above and beyond to make guests comfortable, never judging, always willing to learn from them. She’s a newbie on the job, learning the trade under McDonnell’s esteemed tutelage, and one of her homework assignments is to try the contents of every bottle behind the bar. Where’s the enrollment application? We’re ready to make the dean’s list.
So, where are you from? I’m from Seattle.
How’d you get out here? Berkeley brought me out here. I went to UC Berkeley. I got my degree in anthropology.
That’s probably pretty handy for bartending. I always tell people, “Watch out, or you’re going to be in my dissertation.”
How’d you get into bartending? It wasn’t a direct route. It’s a culmination of 11 years in the industry.
And how did that get you to Cantina? I was hired as a cocktail waitress at Frisson. Then I came and helped open Cantina.
Is this your first time bartending? I was at a college bar in Berkeley, but this is my first time bartending at this caliber. I knew how to pour a cocktail rather than mix one.
Which cocktail on the menu do you enjoy making the most? The Carmen Amaya; equal parts rye [whiskey], equal parts sherry. Whether you’re a bartender or a chef, you eat with your eyes. [This drink] is not that pretty, but it tastes amazing.
What do you typically order when you’re out? It depends … on the weather, the bar. If the lighting is sexy, then I get a Negroni. If I want to kick-start my night, it’s a shot of tequila and a beer.
We have a theory that the way to fix Muni would be to install a bar on each bus. What bus do you take, and what would you serve on it? The 31 Balboa, and it would have to be something calming because it’s rowdy. I’d say Hot Toddy, but people get rowdy on whiskey. And you can’t do tequila, it’s an upper. I guess the Caribbean Cup: cucumber, ginger, rum, effervescence.
If you could sip a cocktail anywhere in the world, where would it be? The neighborhood of Casco Viejo in Panama City, Panama.
Why there? I was there for a month between January and February. It was my first trip on my own, and it was my first night, and the adrenaline had worn off and it kind of hit me, “It’s 30 days until my return ticket, and I don’t know a soul here.” So I had a cocktail, and it was the most amazing rum I ever had.
Any crazy insects in Panama City? I hadn’t seen any insects larger than I did when I lived in Texas.
Texas? To meet family in a little town, Idabelle, Okla. It literally has one stoplight. I thought people were exaggerating. My grandma’s maiden name is Bible, so we’re the Bibles from Oklahoma: “Hi, I’m a Bible.”
Blackberry and Cabernet Caipirinha
» 2 oz. cachaça
» ½ oz. simple syrup
» 1 oz. cabernet
» Fresh lime, blackberries and orange
Muddle together four or five blackberries and simple syrup in a glass. Add cachaça, cabernet, a handful of chopped orange and two handfuls of quartered limes and stir well.