Meet your mixologist: Robin Parsons

About the series: 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.


85 Campton Place, San Francisco, (415) 433-8585,

If we are ever lost at sea, please let our shipmate be 30-year-old Robin Parsons, head bartender at Vessel, the subterranean lounge located underneath the Nike Store on Union Square. The dimly lit lounge is tastefully designed to mirror a nautical theme. The stools surrounding its low tables are boat tie-downs with actual mooring. Driftwood centerpieces rest on tabletops. Minimalist, sleek canopies represent sails. The service, however, is more akin to a luxury cruise ship, with late night passengers indulging in a hefty amount of bottle service. When we were there, some dude was haggling over an $800 tab he drunkenly blew the week before. Yikes! That said, Vessel’s cocktails are half price during happy hour and there is a very reasonable appetizer menu, such as pigs in a blanket or a grilled ham and cheese sandwich ($9).

How long has it been since you’ve sailed into San Francisco? I’ve been here one year and 20 days. I came here from Boulder, Colo. I decided to quit my three jobs and go into bartending.

What were your three other jobs? I was a manager at a natural food store, Wild Oats. I worked construction and odd jobs just trying to scrape by, and I also worked in the restaurant industry.

So how the heck is someone supposed to find this place? We do a lot of online advertising. We’ve had a few newspaper articles. The New York Times wrote about us. It’s neat that it’s tucked away in an alley. This place is absolutely gorgeous. We’re almost like a buried treasure.

On that theme, if you could be lost at sea, where would you go? Lake Michigan. I love Michigan. That’s where my family is. It’s beautiful three months a year and crap the other time.

Don’t you guys do a killer happy hour here? We do a happy hour between 5 and 9 p.m., Tuesday through Friday. Our specialty cocktails are $8 instead of $12 and our well drinks are $6, and we have a pretty good well selection here.

What’s the strangest drink you’ve ever made? An Incredible Hulk. It’s Hennessey and Hypnotic and it turns it green.

Did you try it? No. I figure if you drink cognac you shouldn’t put anything in it.

What was this place before it became Vessel? It was basement storage for Armani. See that brick wall over there? It’s from 1902. It’s holding up Stockton Street. It withstood the 1906 earthquake.

What does a person’s drink order say about them? If you order a vodka soda, you’re an experienced drinker. Patron on the rocks, you’re a rookie. A Manhattan, you’re an experienced drinker.

Why aren’t there any bar stools along your bar? We want people to lounge, to use the couches. There’s such an artistic design here that you’ll notice if you just sit back and relax.


» ½ ounce passion fruit purée.

» One to 1 ½ ounces of Svedka Clementine vodka

» Splash of Schramsberg Brut Rosé.

» Served up

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