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 seewhen 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.
Moose’s: Valen West
There’s nothing more romantic than moseying on down to Washington Square Park, taking in the view that is Saints Peter and Paul Church (where Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe snapped their wedding pics), and then grabbing dinner at Moose’s. Even better is grabbing a table near Valen West, the establishment’s boisterous bartender, who moved here 14 years ago from Hawaii to open the now-defunct Planet Hollywood near Union Square. A seasoned traveler, West’s most recent travels took her through the Himalayas without guide or porter. “The volume of what the Himalayas look like in real life … there’s nothing that can capture it. It’s something out of a fairy tale. It was ‘Lord of the Rings’ in real life.” That was one of many stories we enjoyed hearing. Just don’t tell her she looks tired. It’s an observation she doesn’t take too kindly. “I just find it to be rude,” she tells us. 1652 Stockton St., S.F.; (415) 989-7800; www.mooses.com
How did you get into bartending? I actually usedto be a floor manager at Betelnut and through the [mnager-in-training] program, where you have to do everything, from washing dishes to prep in the kitchen, to a week behind the bar, and that’s when I fell in love with it.
So, it sounds like you’ve been in the restaurant, bartending industry from the get-go. My very first job is where “Dirty Dancing” was filmed, when I was 15. It’s called the Mountain Lake resort. I was actually a buser and I was turned into a hostess after one day because I was so bad at busing.
That’s so awesome. I never even knewthat place actually existed! It’s actually still there. It was a hardcore make-out session … especially when you grow up in a small town where there’s nothing to do.
When you belly up to the bar, what do you typically order? Green chartreuse.
Wow, we haven’t had anyone give us that one yet. It makes me want to jump through plate glass window and land on all fours. It’s the crazy stuff.
If you could serve a cocktail to anyone, who would it be? Albert Einstein. I’d like to see him drunk and pick his brain. I’d serve him a Negroni; he just looks so sophisticated.
What’s the best tip you’ve ever received? I had this one regular who would come in every day and we would play gin and he would give a $100 every time. That paid my rent.
Did you let him win? No! Sometimes I actually won.
What’s the best thing about tending bar in San Francisco? I love the fact that we’re living on a fault line because you realize you are living on a planet that’s so alive.
<strong>You got a thing for science, huh? It’s just my hobby, I love it. One of my favorite regulars at Julia was a nuclear physicist who worked for NASA.
If you could travel to the moon, would you? That would be great! I’d love to put that on my resume.
If you were to open a bar on the moon, what do you think the specialty drink would be? I think I would go out of business because of lack of customers.
What’s the strangest drink you’ve ever poured? A Kahlua Bloody Mary. 1½ ounces of Kahlua and Bloody Mary mix.
Oh, gross. That’s definitely the worst one we’veever been told about. Good. I like trumping.
» 1½ ounces Makers Mark
» 1 ounce blood orange puree
» Splash of Meyer lemon
» 1 ounce Warre’s 10-year Tawny port
Serve up with a twist of orange.