Meet your mixologist: Karl Strandfeldt, McCormick & Kuleto’s

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.

McCormick & Kuleto’s

900 North Point St., San Francisco; (415) 929-1730; www.mccormickandschmicks.com

The last time we had dinner at McCormick & Kuleto’s, darn it if we weren’t star-struck when the San Francisco Twins trotted past our table. Yes, San Francisco royalty prances through this palatial eatery on a regular basis, but none of them are as regal as Karl Strandfeldt, the establishment’s revered bartender. One of the most knowledgeable guys we’ve ever met, Strandfeldt got his start at Henry Africa’s, one of The City’s first and most famous “fern bars.” Besides learning the ins and outs of making a fine cocktail, Strandfeldt steadily built an artillery of entertaining anecdotes, which he might share if you’re lucky. We understand that taking your belle or beau out to one of The City’s top-tier seafood restaurants can be a pricey affair to remember, but we were pleasantly surprised by McCormick & Kuleto’s modestly priced happy-hour appetizer menu. Ahi tuna tartare and coconut prawns are $3.95 each, veggie egg rolls and a nice plate ofhummus are a mere $1.95 each. The catch? It’s only Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. We’ll leave work early.

How long have you tended the bar here? I have been here since it opened 17 years ago. I think the 19th of July — yeah, that was our first day. I’ve been here ever since. It’s a little like the mafia; every time I go to leave, I get sucked back in.

Where are you from originally? Manhattan.

Oh, wow. That must’ve been fun. It was an education. I was born on the West Side, and then we moved to the north shore of Long Island. And that’s where I grew up. I came out here in the mid-70s. And I lived in Chicago for awhile. I was there for four years; it’s a great town. And then you get to that point in your 20s when someone says to you, “Hey, you wanna move to California?” Never look back.

Since you’ve been here from the get-go, what are the more memorable moments you’ve had behind the bar? This is a destination location. We’ve just met a lot of great locals and a lot of great tourists. It’s all about welcoming people and wanting them to come back.

What’s a good welcome drink for people visiting San Francisco for the first time? I’d probably make them a [San Francisco] Lemon Drop. It’s a great drink. We always call it asour candy with a little bit of punch to it.

Why is it a “San Francisco” Lemon drop? Our company believes [this variation of the drink] was invented by Henry Africa’s. So I started interviewing people, and they didn’t know who made it. So it was decided that we all made it.

And then, what would be a good bon voyage drink? If they’ve had snacks, or dinner, probably something like a port, sherry or an Irish Coffee.

If I sat down and told you, “I’m very cold but have had a great day, and I want a drink that is sipped, but not too sweet,” what would you make me? We have one drink that is like a hot apple pie. It’s hot apple cider, and you add Tuaca vanilla bean liqueur, nutmeg, cinnamon and top with whip cream.

What’s the most unusual cocktail you’ve made? In San Francisco, it’s the Pecan Punch. Herb Caen used to drink it. It’s made in an Irish Coffee glass, with a touch of grenadine, to just coat the glass. Add ice and pecan liqueur, soda water and stir. Float brandy on top of it with a twist of lemon.

Featured drink: San Francisco Lemon Drop

» ¾ oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice

» ½ oz. simple syrup

» 1½ ozs. Absolut Citron

» ¼ oz. to ½ oz. Cointreau

Shake together and serve straight up in a sugar-rimmed martini glass.

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