Meet Your Mixologist: Tarah Cranford, Dragon Bar

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.

Dragon Bar

473 Broadway, (415) 834-9383, www.dragonbarsf.com

Though the Chinese calendar says 2008 is the Year of the Rat, we are actually a dragon, so we headed on over to Dragon Bar, the boisterous nightclub located where Chinatown and North Beach run up against each other. We sat down in the lovely red den with Tarah Cranford, a delightful mixologist who came to the Bay Area by way of San Jose State University, where she studied public relations. A stellar bartender indeed, her gig at Dragon Bar is kind of temporary, so if you’re smart, you’ll snag a cocktail from her while you can. When she’s not shaking a shaker or catching people who dance a bit too hard on the bar, she’s talking politics, snapping pictures with her trusty camera or getting cozy with her TiVo.

What are you making for us tonight? I’ll make you something that I usually make for girls, who come in and say, “I want something fruity.” It’s called the Ladies Love It. And, they love it. Anytime a group of girls come in and I make them one of these, they order it all night long. You need to have your repertoire of drinks. It’s like a Raspberry Lemon Drop.

How long have you been bartending? For a really long time. I don’t say it because people will know how old I am. I am at an age where I shouldn’t be bartending, but most women who are my age bartend.

How did you get into bartending? I was hanging out at Cloud 9 — which is now Mr. Smith’s — and [the general manager] walks up to me hammered, with one eye shifting to the side, and asks, “Do you bartend?” I said no. He said, “Do you want to learn? Call me on Tuesday.” I thought, “Whatever.” Almost a week went by and then I get this phone call. He had gotten my number from one of my girlfriends, and he says, “You didn’t think I remembered. I am totally serious about the gig.” So I started bartending at Cloud 9.

Do you remember what the first drink you ever made was? I was such a bad bartender at Cloud 9. It was the hottest bar at the time and there was a bar upstairs. I had just turned 2. I didn’t know Absolut from gin. People kept asking for gin and tonics. All night, I was pouring rum and tonics! I had no idea until I read the bottle.

What drink are you most proud to make now? I make a really good martini and manhattan. Whenever I pour a martini, they say, “there’s no alcohol.” Well, what are you drinking?

Describe the vibe here at Dragon Bar. We have a really wide age group, from those who are newly 21 to 30s, and it’s where people come to get really wasted and dance their butts off. We got go-go dancing on the bar. We think it’s great. We watch them. We’re baby-sitting all night.

Do you have any pet peeves? The worst are people who order really slow. “I want a Ketel One, um, and um, ah” … I can’t even remember their order because I am just staring at them.

FEATURED RECIPE

LADIES LOVE IT

» 4 ounces Finlandia Wild Berry Vodka (or Stoli Raspberry)

» Splash of sweet and sour

» Splash of pineapple juice

» Splash of 7UP

Shake together with ice, so the ice breaks. Strain into a sugar-rimmed martini glass. Add a floater of Chambord. Garnish with a cherry.

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