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 whatdo 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.
25 Maiden Lane, S.F.; www.otissf.com
This hip little lounge in Union Square caters to The City’s fashionistas, eccentrics and everyone in between. There’s a phenomenal story behind the posh refuge’s name: Otis was a pimp who lived in owner Damon White’s neighborhood back in Harlem. When the familiar bells of the ice-cream truck rang, Otis was always there first, a few paces ahead, throwing dollar bills over his shoulder to the stream of kids behind him. There was a limited supply of cash, however, and the fastest kids snatched the bills and got the ice cream. The lesson: Hustle! White is full of great stories, and so is his right-hand man, Mike Hicks, the resident bar manager, who regaled us with tales from the road — he was in a band — and wooed us with a fab cocktail menu.
How long have you been bartending? Five years.
How’d you get into it? Initially, it was just kind of a job during school to make some money, and then I grew a passion for it.
What were you studying in school? Music at San Francisco State.
Are you in a band? I was in a punk band.
What were you called? Nothingness. They’re still playing. I played bass.
What’s the best concert you’ve been to? Instead of the best, how about the most random? I went to the Grammy Awards. It wasn’t the best show, but it was surreal. My brother and I kept looking at each other and saying, “We’re at the Grammys!”
What do you typically order? I like classic drinks — Negronis, Old-Fashioneds.
When you were touring with your band, is that what you’d drink on stage? No. I’m pretty low maintenance. Just give me a beer.
Do you have any pet peeves? When somebody orders their drink and you give it to them and they stand there talking to their friends, slowing us down.
If you could serve a drink to anyone, who would it be? Bob Marley or Scarlett Johansson.
What would you serve Bob Marley? Hot Buttered Rum, since it’s on our menu.
These days, that’s a pretty rare find on the drink menu. When it was freezing outside, this place doesn’t really have any heat, so I wanted to do something warm.
What would you serve Scarlett? A French 75.
There’s an expression, “drink to your health.” What kind of drink would you prescribe for improving one’s health? Whenever I get sick, I drink ginger, whiskey, lemon juice, with a little honey. Heat it up. It’s a good old-fashioned cure. All those medications, they don’t work.
Where are you from originally? San Luis Obispo.
How many times have you gone on Hearst Castle tours? Once, unfortunately, because I was trying to entertain someone from out of town.
Are there any cocktails out there that annoy you? Cosmos. There are so many better things you can do.
How many Cosmos do you make in a given week? I make a lot. A lot of people will come in and order a Sex on the Beach and I say, “I don’t know to makethat.”
What do you like to make but don’t get to make often? Old-Fashioneds. I really like them. When someone orders them, they get the wink.
Featured drink: The Maiden
» ½ fresh-squeezed lemon
» Dash of simple syrup
» ½ ounce Aperol
» 2 ounces Level vodka
» ¼ ounce to ½ ounce pomegranate juice
Shake together. Top with sparkling wine. Garnish with a lemon twist.