Meet your mixologist: Téa Funicello

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.

Redwood Room

495 Geary St. (inside the Clift Hotel), San Francisco.

(415) 929-2372, www.clifthotel.com/clift_hotel_redwood_room.asp

Erected in the 1930s, the Redwood Room was built of one redwood tree, its estimated age 2,000 years old. Yes, we felt a tinge of guilt when we heard that, but we still can’t deny that the interior is utterly astounding. The Clift has toasted San Francisco’s sexy set since the 1950s, but wunderkind designer Ian Schrager wrapped his hands and mind around the super-sleek hotel beginning in 1999 and gave it a makeover to the tune of $50 million. The Redwood Room, however, remained virtually untouched. Its Art Deco-era chandeliers and sconces are all original. The drinks however, are thoroughly modern, strong and delicious. We grabbed a seat next to 29-year-old Téa Funicello and toasted luxury.

How long have you been here at the Redwood Room? Five years. I started bartending in college. I used to go to school in Santa Barbara and worked for a place called the Blue Agave. They used a lot of organic ingredients. It really inspired me.

What were you studying in school?</b> English. I’m also a writer and currently working on the draft of my first book.

Oh, what is it? A memoir.

Is it going to capture your entire life, or just a portion of it? I’m not quite sure how late I’ll go. Right now I’m in high school.

And is that a good thing or a bad thing? A little bit of both.

What drew you into writing? Ever since I can remember, I was an avid reader. I used to escape into books. I think a job like this really helps. You get an idea for characters. It’s really similar to a sales job in terms of reading what people want from you.

Have you culled many characters from this bar? I’ve written a little bit about the bar, but mainly they’re my fellow employees.

What’s your take on Oprah’s Book of the Month Club? I wouldn’t refuse to be on her list, I’ll say that much.

What did you think of that whole JT LeRoy scandal? I’ve seen the real JT LeRoy. It was at an event for some tequila company, about maybe two years ago. It seemed that [the hoax] really worked for her.

What is your signature cocktail? Well, the drink I’m making you is not on the menu. Some of my drinks still get requested frequently, even though they aren’t on the menu.

Such as? The Raspberry Lemondrop with Ketel One Citron, shaken with fresh raspberries. Most people who ask your opinion on what to order usually want vodka, something that doesn’t taste like alcohol.

What’s your biggest pet peeve? When people tell me to smile.

How do you respond? Well, the other day, this guy said to me, “You can’t smile while you work?” So I said, “Do you smile when you work?” He agreed. I feel like it’s sexist. They would never ask the guys to smile. It doesn’t mean I’m not happy or content, usually busy.

What’s your favorite thing about this place? The energy of the room.

When you aren’t here, where do you grab a drink? I live in the Marina and I’m a big fan of Umami. It’s the only place that has fresh produce and fresh juices. They have a great drink menu.

Oh, so because you are a writer and all in San Francisco, are you a Mark Twain fan? Some. Is he from San Francisco? No. But he lived here for a long time. He had the famous quote, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” That’s good! The quote I like is, “I feel sorry for people who don’t drink, because when they wake up, that’s as good as they’re gonna feel.” (Frank Sinatra.)

Featured Recipe

Ketel One Citron Blueberry Lemonade

» Fill glass with crushed ice.

» Squeeze of fresh blueberry puree.

» Squeeze of lemongrass simple syrup.

» Three count of Ketel One Citron.

» Dash of soda.

» Garnish with lemon peel and blueberries.

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