Meet Your Mixologist: Joel Baker, Bourbon and Branch

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? Andwhat lessons have they learned along the way? In this Examiner weekly feature, we talk to some of our local bartenders to find out.

Bourbon and Branch

www.bourbonandbranch.com

Shhhhh. The speakeasy-inspired proprietors of Bourbon and Branch would rather the world not know its location. Well, actually, they do want you to find it, but in an effort to re-create a real speakeasy, you have to play the part. To get the real deal, go to the Web site and make a reservation. You will be issued a password for admittance, along with the bar’s address and phone number. Now, be sure to have this information on hand because the establishment goes the extra step of being completely unlisted. We learned this the hard way. A killer cocktail program and expert mixologists such as Joel Baker make the grunt work worth it. An R.S.V.P.-only system means you can luxuriate over decadent drinks and have a meaningful conversation at the same time.

From where do you hail? I grew up in a small town in the Central Valley. Lodi.

Oh yeah, I’ve cruised through there before. I’m guessing on your way to something else.

How did you get into bartending? I paid my way through school with it.

Where’d you go to school? San Francisco State. Political science.

That must be a subject that comes in handy for bartending. Absolutely. Politics can be such a tricky subject. You never know who you are talking to. There are two subjects I won’t talk about at the bar: religion and politics.

So you didn’t converse with anyone on the whole Olympic torch controversy when it came through The City? I’m a little more open about that because it’s sports-related.

You guys have got to have one of the thickest beverage menus out there. We got about 75 or 80 different cocktails. On the spirits side, we have 170 different bottles of whiskey.

You’ve done your best to keep this place a secret. Is it still that? I’m actually surprised at the number of people who come in and say it’s their first time here.

What’s up with your fancy ice cubes? They kind of don’t melt, right? They’re almost perfect 1-inch by 1-inch cubes that are frozen, thawed, and then frozen again using distilled water, and it’s frozen upside down so there are no air bubbles.

If you owned a speakeasy, what would the password be? Rhubarb. I say that because growing up, I spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s. There use to be a game show called “Password.” A person would give clues to help the other person guess the password. The password was rhubarb. Well, the person said “food,” and the other person guessed, “rhubarb,” and my grandmother said, “That’s bull—-.” It was the first time I heard my grandmother swear.

Featured drink: Coucher du Soleil

» 1½ oz. J.M. Rhum Agricole

» ¾ oz. Aperol

» ¼ oz. Basil Eau de Vie

» ¾ oz. grapefruit juice

» ¾ oz. lime juice

» 2 dashes Fee Brother’s Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters

» ½ oz. elderflower syrup

Muddle basil with Eau de Vie and elderflower syrup in mixing glass. Measure remaining ingredientsand pour into mixing glass. Shake and double-strain into wine glass filled with crushed ice.

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