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.
Bimbo’s 365 Club
1025 Columbus Ave.
(415) 474-0365, www.bimbos365club.com
An hour before the show starts at the velvet divinity that is Bimbo’s 365 Club, bartender Saul Levy is listening to the sound check. He’s done it thousands of times. He likes to get there early so he can get a good look at that night’s celeb du jour. James Brown, Todd Rundgren, the Bay Area’s very own SuperBooty and Phil Lesh have all come under the watchful eye of Levy.
Lucky for them, too, since Levy is a talented artist and is known for sketching portraits of numerous performers who have graced the stage at Bimbo’s. Show him your good side and maybe he’ll show you the impressive museum he’s built behind the bar.
How long have you been working here? I’ve been working here for 20 years. Yes, it’s my 20th anniversary.
Why did you start working here? Because my roommate said, “Hey, I have to go to a bicycle race, can you cover my shift? But you have to go meet the boss.” So I met the boss and that’s how I got in the door. And it’s a fantastic bartending job because we’re always open and we have so many different things that go on here. It’s different than a neighborhood bar.
Do you have a signature cocktail that you make? This is a great drink. I’ve only served it at Bimbo’s one time. It was for the best friend of my wife’s friend. You take some Bombay Gin, a little Cinzano. Shake well. Get two glasses. Don’t forget your olives. When you serve this drink, you put one of these in [Levy drops in a diamond ring] and you say: Will you marry me?
What’s it called? That is a Tiffany Martini.
No way! That’s my name! They came here for New Year’s Eve and Joanne never thought she’d get a ring from Tony, nor did she care.
Where else have you worked? I worked at a place that was the coolest of all the cool places. It was called Henry Africa’s. It was on Van Ness and Vallejo, in the late ’70s. They had this piano player. You’d walk in and there was this long bar and at the very end a door with a grand piano behind it. The door would be closed and then every half hour the door would open and the piano player would start playing. This guy was fantastic! That guy was Harry Denton.
What’s the best show you’ve seen here? We had Phil Lesh and Friends a couple of months ago. It wasn’t the best show I saw at Bimbo’s, it was the best show I ever saw! Van Morrison was a good show. Kid Creole and the Coconuts, now that is a great band. Bill Haley’s dead, but his band still plays and they kick ass. They’re in their 80s.
How many shows have you seen? I see at least 200 bands in a year.
What are your favorite drinks tomake? Martinis, Manhattans, the Sidecar … the old-school style!</p>
» 2½ ounces Bombay Sapphire gin
» ½ ounce Cinzano dry vermouth
» 2 Cinzano Spanish olives
» 1 engagement ring