Former dot-commer makes a mean drink at Mission watering hole

Velvet Cantina calls out to people from its cozy little corner spot in the Mission district like shiny objects call out to giraffes on a safari. Once you’ve seen it and experienced it, you want to continually go back. In a word, it’s irresistible. Hands down one of the best places to grab a cocktail (and incidentally, the best place to forget you had only intended to stay for happy hour — and here it is closing time). We decided to get better-acquainted with bartender Peter Zimmer. His family moved him out here from Boston when he was just a lad so they could groove on The City’s art scene. His dad is a published poet and his mom a sculptor. Not surprisingly, his upbringing has made him quite the connoisseur, but not necessarily in one of those hoity-toity senses. When he witnessed a makeshift mural being dismantled by a work crew, he walked over, grabbed a slab of it and now it’s hanging in his apartment. We’ll drink to that!

Velvet Cantina
3349 23rd St., San Francisco,
(415) 648-4142,

Where are you from? Originally Boston, but I grew up here. I’m from Southy originally. If you get me drunk enough you can hear the accent. Every Sunday I sound like I’m from Boston again because I talk to my grandmother.

When did you move here? Junior high. I moved here with my parents and I just never left.

What do you typically order to drink? A shot and a beer. You know, bartenders … we like to keep it simple. Like, I’ll try one cocktail when I go to new places. When I go down to Beretta, I’ll try one of their cocktails, and then I’m like, “All right. I’ll have a shot and a beer. I tried one.”

What spirit do you find you like the most? I like tequila or whiskey. I didn’t really start drinking tequila until I started working here. I like to know what I’m drinking. I don’t like my tequila too smooth; I like it to have a little burn. I want to know that I’m drinking tequila.

So you said you did the whole start-up thing back in the day. What’s your background that you’d have gone into that? When I got out of Chico State, I just came here and it was during the dot-com boom, and I actually got my first one just because I knew [Microsoft] Access. I just knew how to do Access and I started getting those jobs out of college. I have an environmental science degree that I’ve never used. I have a buddy who does water management and he’s making a killing, and I’m like, “Man, I wish I used my degree.”

OK, then, what’s your most eco-friendly drink on the menu? I guess it’d have to be one of the organic tequilas, but most tequilas are organic, they’re just not certified. It takes nine years to get certified in Mexico and a lot of money.

What cocktail do you serve here that totally says, “I am in the Mission”? The hipster drink would be a shot of Jameson and a PBR.

Any strange drink requests? Oh, yeah. I can’t remember all of the ingredients, but they wanted cream and tequila in the same drink. I made it for them, but I couldn’t believe they were ordering it.

Featured recipe

Cilantro Gimlet

– Handful of cilantro leaves
– Squeeze of lime
– 1 tbsp. agave nectar
– Tequila

Muddle cilantro in the bottom of a pint glass with lime. Add nectar and two shots of tequila. Shake with ice and strain into a glass filled with ice.

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