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.
People ask us all the time if we’ve become so famous from writing the weekly Mixologist column that people now know our name every time we walk into one of San Francisco’s many fine drinking establishments. Not really. Though we still have our fingers crossed. However, we never felt more famous or welcome than we did by 30-year-old Shawn Magee, proprietor and bartender at Amnesia. Don’t be swayed by the bar’s name, this isn’t the land of forgotten. In fact, it’s quite clear that Magee knows everyone’s name. And if he hasn’t learned yours yet, he will. He sat us down for a few delicious soju cocktails and delightful conversation on community and live music in The City. This former adventure journalist has a soft spot for bands trying to get out there and play, so a huge part of Amnesia’s mission statement is to keep live music, well, alive.
853 Valencia St., San Francisco, (415) 970-0012, www.amnesiathebar.com
How’d you get into bartending? I had a friend from high school who worked at this bar, and I was sleeping in a hammock in a kitchen when I first got out here.
Why? I was transitioning from a career as a writer and magazine editor. So, she was giving up a bartending position. I wasn’t even hired by the owner. I really suck at service jobs. I worked at a cafe and I really sucked at it. And I got here and started bartending and I love it. I’m community-oriented. David here was one of my first customers. I remembered his name the second time he came in. I love having a community gathering place, especially one that surrounds music.
What are all those odd-looking jugs behind you? We’re a soju bar. Those are our soju infusions.
What is soju anyway? Soju is made in the same way as vodka. The one we have is made from a Japanese sweet potato; it has a little more than half the alcohol of vodka.
How important a role does music play here? One hundred percent. This place has a time-honored history for hosting live music. It was one of the most famous punk clubs in the ’80s in the Bay Area. This is where everyone got their start. Johnny Thunders signed the rafters.
We understand that you are a musician yourself. I grew up in a family of singers. I played the piano and trumpet growing up. I still play. I play in a country band, The Lovin’ 44s.
So tonight is Bluegrass Monday, yes? Who you got playing tonight? The Barefoot Nellies. They’re good. You should check them out. There’s so many good musicians doing great music; we do whatever we can to help. We have a lot of local bands who play in the basement for free.
Have you ever had amnesia? Nope. Never.
Have you ever forgotten how to get to the bar? No. I decided to stick with the name because I needed people to come here. It’s sort of the same thing with boats. It’s not a good idea to change the name. There’s a bad spirit.
Ginger Lemonade Martini
» Take a knuckle’s length of peeled, chopped ginger and put in a shaker
» Add one-third of a squeezed lemon and a tiny bit of ice
» Mash the ingredients together
» Add two counts or triple sec
» Add three counts of ginger-infused soju
» Add three counts of regular soju
» Pour into a martini glass
» Garnish with a lemon slice