In a saloon town suchas 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.
83 First St., San Francisco; (415) 296-8383; www.83proof.com
With a name like Sky Jet Wegman, you’re either going to be one of the coolest daddies on the block or a pretentious dimwit. Fortunately for the patrons of 83 Proof, Wegman is the former. He got his start in the business thanks to his cousin, who just happened to be pals with John Metheny. You may know Metheny, better known as Johnny Love, as the owner and namesake of the crazy-popular Polk Street bar that herded more meat than a cattle farm in the early ’90s. “It was a pretty chaotic place to learn the trade. Throughout the night, for example, I’d have to physically run up and down Van Ness to various local liquor stores to fetch and carry back full boxes of various liquors,” Wegman says. Undoubtedly, that kind of chaos helped him prep for opening 83 Proof; just try to find an empty barstool come 5 p.m.
Sky Jet. Is that your given name? Yeah, I think anybody born in the 1970s has a pretty good chance of having a unique or flashy name. So my parents named me Sky, funny enough, but not entirely unheard of. They also wanted to give me the opportunity to choose my own middle name. The birth certificate required a middle initial; they chose J, thereby limiting me to a J name. I cycled through a few options, Jedi when I was really young, Jalapeno a bit later …. Now my credit cards and business documents all say Jet, so I guess its official. James Dean’s character in the movie “Giant” was my motivation, but combined with the first name Sky, I think I feel more like a low-budget airline than a pop culture icon.
You estimate your bar is stocked with approximately 300 bottles of various liquors. Which bottle do you pour most often from? Which do bottle do you pour the least? Anchor Steam maybe, into my mouth. No, it’s not particularly exciting, but I serve a lot of typical vodka sodas, most often with [Grey] Goose or Kettle [One]. As for the least, aside from some less-than-traditional spirits that most people haven’t heard of … the sugary sweet liquors aren’t very popular any longer. I can probably count on my just my six-fingered hands how many Midori or fruity-flavored rum drinks I’ve served.
What would be an 83-proof drink? The bar’s name is a blend of the address and a focus on the fact that we are just about the booze. It is a bit of an attempt to differentiate us from this nice selection of restaurant-bars in the neighborhood as well as highlight our selection. That being said, we realized day one that we’d be asked what we’ve got that is in fact 83 proof. The only bottle I’ve got here that fits is the Damrak gin; its 83 plus a few decimal points. If I were trying to sell somebody on an 83 proof drink, I’d have to reach for that; I’d prefer to see it in a martini. I guess the next step would be to calculate what combinations of different liquors might add up to or subtract down to 83, but my math skills don’t move far beyond, “Here’s your change, thank you.”
If you could serve a drink to anyone, who would it be? Tom Waits. It’s somehow appropriate to want to serve the man who made famous the phrase, “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.” A bottle of Old Crow, two shot glasses and the use of this piano we’ve got in the bar would be enough to make my day and a half.
Featured drink: East by Northwest
» 2 oz. Rogue Spruce Gin
» ¼ oz. Zen Green Tea Liquor
» Heavy splash of Stirrings Blood Orange Bitters
» Mix together and garnish with a blood orange slice
» Serve straight-up in a martini glass