Qi’s cocktails channel serene philosophy

Beth Laberge/Special to the S.F. ExaminerEarthy elixir: Mike Calalay crafts drinks inspired by the concepts of water

It just might represent the new face of a South of Market beset by construction. Los Angeles-based interior designer Yasmine Farahani and the lounge’s owners spent three years renovating the space long occupied by Annie’s Social Club, a divey karaoke bar. Inside, you’ll find a chic interior carefully sculpted around the concept of four elements that make up qi, or the energy and balance of the universe. Massive underwater photography murals, blue-light projectors and flowing lines of white leather couches are evocative of water; torches suggest fire; flocks of 2,500 cranes folded in gold paper suspended from the ceiling signify air; and low, cylindrical sculptures with serene faces represent earth. Modern from top to bottom, Qi has a clear goal of attracting a young, urban clientele. We spoke with bartender Mike Calalay.

Qi takes the four-elements concept to the cocktail menu. How does that work?

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They’re broken down into each group with a common theme. The fire drinks are spicy or smoky while the earth drinks are robust and strong. We use fresh ingredients — organic whenever possible — and make a lot of our own mixers. These days, it’s almost like being a chef behind the bar. I’m kind of vain when it comes to making drinks. You have to take pride in what you do because it represents you. May as well be good at it.

What is the scene like here at the lounge?

It’s a mixed crowd, mostly young professionals after work. Depending on the promoter on weekend nights, they can be from all over the Bay Area. We hope to collaborate with the Yerba Buena art walk and the gallery at 111 Minna. It’s an amazing space that isn’t so loud as a club, where you can come in after work. You’re able to talk and hopefully it sparks creativity.  

That makes sense — you said that you are an artist as well as a bartender.

I’m a painter. Surrealism, portraits … I’m very independent. And I’m also a father. I have three girls — 11, 16 and 17. Dad told me it’s karma. I love ’em.

How long have you lived in The City?

For 15 years. I worked as a bartender at the W for five. I love this city, it keeps me going. I lived in the Philippines for 27 years —  it’s so hot there you sweat in the shower.

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