Mixologist: For a ‘real San Francisco treat’ hit the Tunnel Top

Tunnel Top: Finding a place to relax in the heart of Union Square is quite the challenge, but Tunnel Top provides a quick escape from the confusion of travelers stuck behind their street maps. A number of tourists do inevitably enter this hole in the wall to wet their whistle, but Tunnel Top is a neighborhood gem attracting a group of regulars and downtown businesspeople looking to unwind after a tough day in the office. Brian Johnson, a 34-year-old bartender, is a true easygoing California boy, serving up a joke with every stiff yet moderately priced happy hour concoction. If you’re feeling indecisive, beware: Johnson is likely to place a shot of Fernet, “the real San Francisco treat,” in front of you, waiting to catch a priceless facial expression on camera. But if you hang out long enough, you may get your revenge as Johnson has been known to whip out his best Michael Jackson moves on the other side of the bar. 601 Bush St., San Francisco, (415) 986-8900

How did you start bartending? I’ve always been working in the restaurant business, so it was a natural progression. I was waiting tables, but wasn’t digging it, and then I was a barback until I got the opportunity to bartend. And I never looked back. It’s all about letting your personality shine through.

How long have you been working for Tunnel Top? Two years. I was working at the Presidio Social Club, Coco Cocktails, which was started by a few bartenders here, and I still work at the House of Prime Rib. I basically started drinking at Tunnel Top a lot and became friends with the bartenders until they gave me a chance behind the bar.

How does Tunnel Top stack up to other bars? It’s my favorite place I’ve worked because the people who come in are fantastic. I work mostly happy hours, so a lot of times I’ll hang out with them after work. Regulars come in and we talk, then another comes in who doesn’t know the other and I introduce them, get them talking. It’s a real family.

Why do you like working happy hour? Well, you get the people that aren’t drunk yet coming in, so I get to make them drunk. By the time they are drunk, I’m out the door, so I don’t have to deal with them. But, seriously, it’s a good mix of people coming in at that time. You get the trifecta: residents, people working downtown, then all the tourists.

Any favorite customer stories? About a month ago, a bachelor party came in. It was a bunch of Scottish guys, so the bachelor was wearing a kilt and flashing his [butt] to all the women coming in. Not like that wasn’t enough, but when I went to the bathroom, two of his buddies had him pinned down and were shaving his chest. There was shaving cream everywhere!

If you could have a drink with anyone who would it be? I have to be ironic here, since the current lead singer is named Brian Johnson, but I’d have a drink with the original lead singer of AC/DC, Bon Scott.

What is your kind of drink? Do you have a signature? I don’t have my own signature cocktail, but I like the classics for sure. But, when people want something different, I make them a Corpse Reviver No. 2.


Corpse Reviver No. 2

  • 1 oz. gin
  • 1 oz. Lillet
  • 1 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 oz. Cointreau
  • 1 drop absinthe

Shake ingredients together and serve in a martini glass


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