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Top Shelf

Metropolitan's salute to some of the city's favorite bartenders

As any good drinker knows, there's no place like the bar. The bar is where everything happens, where the ice makes the delightful tinkle in the shaker, where the beer is always the perfect temperature and, of course, where everybody knows your name. But none of it could happen without The Bartender. It may be their ability to mix a drink or their tendency to throw you a beer on the house when you're down on your luck. It may be their knowledge of obscure elixirs or the way they look in a tank-top. For whatever reason, everybody has favorites. Here are a few of ours.

Adam Richey of Momo's

Maybe you want an update on the social haps in Miami or San Diego, or you just need a vicious, smooth Manhattan to calm your suit-stunk nerves. Visit Adam Richey on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights at Momo's on Second Street. "For one thing, the world would be a better place if there were no cosmopolitans," says Richey, a nine-year veteran of the industry and a Ritz Carlton alum. "I look at bartending the way that great chefs view cooking." Gregarious, professional and a right snappy dresser, Adam brings the lush life to light, telling tales of trips to hip locales while shaking up a mean lime daiquiri. (Tracie Broom)

Alethea of 111 Minna

This bitch always has it goin' on--her composure and beauty always seem to painfully contrast with my own irreparable states. With her elegant outfits and nonoffensive retro hairdos, Miss Alethea certainly puts the "dress" back in bartendress. But if you're still on the wagon and can't bear the juice of life itself, you can always wander around the gallery and scam on hot guys in yellow-tinted sunglasses as they critique the artwork on the wall. (C. Silo)

Anna of 1015 Folsom

Perky? You haven't seen perkier. Saucy? No one's saucier than Anna, a house bartender at the under-siege all-night 1015 Folsom. High-heeled and open-toed, Anna's been known to blurt out "Toe sucking optional" to patrons, as if that were a possible alternative to a tip. Do you really need another reason that we chose her? I didn't think so. (Michael Stabile)


Five Days, Seven Nights: A working stiff hits the town all week long


Chad of 26Mix

Whenever Chad's behind the bar, I always make sure to order the most complex drink. Why? 'Cause I like to see his manly muscles ripple as he works that shaker. Oh, yes, girl--try the Toph One White Russian special and you'll get to see Mr. Chad bend over as he grabs that milk carton from the cooler. Got booty? Indeed. Sometimes, owner Lawrence "Larry Love" Sutten takes control behind the bar--that's all right by me, too (especially if he's wearing a shoulder-baring he-man wife beater). But if sexualizing the bartender just isn't your thing, you can always shift your attention to the turntables, where DJs such as Al Simmons, Toph, Chris Orr and M3 run their callused fingers against those melting discs of wax. (CS)

Gino of Gino and Carlo's

This is exactly the place my father warned me against as a child growing up in North Beach--the men are old school ruffians and grumpy pool sharks. So naturally, this is my favorite place. Here, many of the bartenders are named "Gino," and if you have perky tits and glossy lips, getting served is never a problem. The jukebox is phenomenal, ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Patsy Cline--just don't ask the bartender to turn up the music, because you might not ever make it home. Not a good place to bring wimpy WASPS and Irish cops. (CS)

DJs Gordo Cabeza and Mr. Trent of Place Pigalle

Two turntables, a guitar, a vibrator and a beer tap. DJs Gordo Cabeza and Mr. Trent not only draw lagers and pour wine, they spin records and jam electric guitar. While mixing drinks and mixing vinyl, the precocious twosome works under the moniker "Twelve Inches and a Tireless Tongue," scratching records with everything from a vibrator to a violin bow. Like children with ADD, they grab whatever they have nearby, use it for a second and move on to their next fabulous trick. They do have to be quick, after all, 'cause they've got to serve your drinks, too. (MS)

d Jack Shamama Jack Shamama of The Top

He may be a relative newcomer to the mixology field, but no one else seems to be able to make a grasshopper with as much enthusiasm. So what if he spills a little. He's got a fondness for fruity drinks, as well as inventive ones, so if you ask Jack for his daily special, he'll probably mix you up something that tastes like an alcoholic Pixy Stick. But you'll love it. And if he gets his way, you'll love him, too. We sure do. (MS)

Jen Embleton of Blowfish, Fuse

She confesses to lying to get her first job bartending, but what bartender hasn't? This waif-thin Scorpio beauty holds her own now, both at überhip Blowfish and überblue Fuse. And she may have lost her virginity at the tender age of 16--making for a rather frank mouth--but she warns us that she's not easy. "A guy can ask me out while I'm working, but only after he's paid the bill and tipped me." Who'd dream of doing otherwise? (MS)

Josh of the Orbit Room

It was the winter of 1997 that Josh introduced me to the Manhattan, perfect. A perfect perfect Manhattan. He also had it ready every time I stepped near the bar, which in the windy wetness of December was quite often. He was the first bartender who knew my name, and his Manhattans--with a twist of lemon peel, NOT a cherry--became my first alcoholic love. He's still there, with spiky hair, a mischievous smile and a Vespa waiting patiently outside. I've since moved on from the Manhattan, and I don't stop by the Orbit Room nearly enough nowadays, but as they say, you never forget your first. (MS)

D Keaka of The Top Keaka of The Top

Usually I'm too wasted at the Top to tell Joe from Bob, but I can usually make out Keaka from behind my goggles of alcoholic lust. Goateed and olive skinned, this lovely child reminds me of the last time I emptied my stomach into the Mediterranean, after being served endless Negronis by a goateed and olive-skinned boy named Luigi, or Mario, or whatever. But if I'm too antsy to be transfixed by this vision of beauty, I normally wander up to the dance floor and harass the DJ: "Hey! You got any ABBA?" Although I have yet to be tossed from the Top, I imagine my time is coming soon--especially if I keep pinching the bums of the hot bartenders and shouting things like "You know you want it, bitch!" (CS)

Marcovaldo Dionysos of Absinthe

Who knows more about spirits than Marcovaldo Dionysos, the man whom Absinthe is damn lucky to have behind the bar? No one. Check it out: we snooped Marco's response to a novice's simple query on pastis from France.com's forum: "There are several kinds of pastis available in the U.S. including Ricard, Henri Bardouin, Pastis 51, La Muse Verte, Granier, Domaine Charbay, Herbsainte, and, if you stretch the definition, Pernod. All are anise/aniseed based spirits flavored with additional herbs, including hyssop, lemon balm, fennel, etc."

This is from the mind of the man you want serving your pricey cocktails--hands down. Marco researches drinks from back in the day while swirling his own beautiful concoctions. Ask him for a Perfect Pear next time you're down at Absinthe in Hayes Valley, and see what the fuss is about. (TB)

Martel of Release's VIP Room

Yes, yes, the VIP lounge idea is incredibly '80s--but if you check out the rest of the beasts at Release on a Saturday night, you'll soon understand why the VIP Room is the most tolerable spot. I am not implying, however, that the VIP Room is home to the hippest, it's actually home to the trashiest--and that's precisely why I love it so. If you have fake tits, shiny tight shirts and loads of hair goop, you'll feel incredibly special in the VIP lounge (hint: better feel special now, because you sure as hell will be the same loser come Monday morning). That said, it is certainly cute to be served by the management--Release promoter Martel Toler can often be found smiling merrily behind the bar, handing the "beautiful few" a bottle of water, a cup of beer, whatever. Modesty and humility always get my vote--and Mr. Toler sure has it down. (CS)

Michelle of Dalva

If I liked chicks, I'd probably dig Michelle--simply because she never stops pouring the poison. But since I prefer dumb skate rats to sophisticated, beautiful women, the corner of 16th and Valencia is a very smart place to be. At Dalva, I can indulge in a few classy cocktails, and by the time my buzz hits, I can cruise over to the Albion, where loads of drunk nubile boys can be found holding in their liquor by the pool table. Always one to save the poor, I'll simply grab one by the hood of his sweatshirt and drag him into my cab. Clever, right? (CS)

Stephanie Daigre of Wild Side West

There's a beautiful symmetry between the quiet, Northeastern poise and grace of Bernal Heights, and the commanding presence of Stephanie Daigre behind the bar at Cortland Street's Wild Side West. The bar itself is almost always warmly, openly--if not raucously-jovial, and at first glance, Stephanie seems to stand in stern and stark contrast to the boozy hubbub. The truth is, she's just as welcoming, in a calm-cool-and-collected way; her smiles, infrequent though they might be, are as honest as honest comes and are worth waiting for. And she knows her beer. (Jessica Ylvisaker)

d Sunshine of The Lexington Club Sunshine of The Lexington Club

So she stopped wearing her tank-top months ago in exchange for less revealing clothing. It's her own prerogative, isn't it? So is not serving you, if she thinks you might cause trouble with the girls at the Lexington. Sunshine doesn't just tend bar, she holds high court, whether or not she means to. As the legendary Mahogony once said, "The men love me, the women love me--they all love me." Though she's too humble to admit it, the same could be said about the beer pourin', drink mixin', lady lovin' bit of Sunshine. (MS)

Victoria of the Hush Hush Lounge

The orange lanterns hanging around the bar at the Hush Hush make everyone look a little rosier, a little healthier, a little better than normal. But special-effects lighting is help that bartendress Victoria does not need. She's a tall, tan, pierced urban cowgirl; she can wear a Xena-style miniskirt and a cowboy hat like no other. She's gorgeous in a jaunty, untended-to way, and she gives the impression of being about as likely to pull a pistol on you as she is to fix you a Stoli martini. And, much as you're thirsty for the martini, you'll be happy to get the attention from this Mission beauty either way. (JY)

The T-Dance Crew
Debbie, LB, Kerstin, Susan, Deborah, Monica and Steven at the EndUp

God bless 'em. Like a parent or best friend--who's seen us through acne, pregnancy and puberty, not to mention our short shorts phase--the bartenders at the EndUp's infamous Sunday T-Dance have seen San Francisco's ups and downs--from rock-star glamour to ruined mascara. And they keep on loving us. They may not forget, but they seem to forgive us for whatever it is we're doing dancing at the tail of the weekend. We may have passed out, thrown up and stink of smoke, but they pick us up, dust us off and pour us another drink without fail. God bless 'em. (MS)

Edinburgh Castle's Scottish Guy

My first time in here I made the mistake of asking the bartender if he was Irish. Since then, he's avoided me like a rotting sack of potatoes. Nonetheless, I find this joint perpetually charming in a pseudo-intellectual sort of way. If you fancy yourself a pathetic writer, this is the right place for you--there's even a sign that reads "We Put the Pub Back in Publishing." Just don't make the mistake of assuming that drunk marketing execs from Bantam are flooding the place--the sign is merely meant to set the high-brow "I'm broke but I'm gonna front like I'm smarter than all the rest of you" tone. But back to the bartender--the Scottish are renowned for the size of their lagers. (CS)

All the Kids at Backflip

Let's face it--yuppies suck and they suck even harder if they're drunk. Nonetheless, the bartenders at this joint are consistently attractive and have excellent skill when it comes to shaking up the Lemon Drops and martinis. Don't be threatened by the preponderance of guys in blazers and chicks in sensible black pants--when the DJ comes on at Backflip, the Financial District stench magically dissipates. (CS)

And last, but certainly not least ...

Spec (God Rest His Soul) of Spec's

Despite the horrendous, yuppie state of North Beach, Spec's is still a melting pot for old school freaks. The original Spec is long gone, but his wonderful spirit remains. Here Rabbit Woman will check your handwriting to see if you're weirder than she, and Polaroid Woman will snap you and your current lay for a mere five bucks--an incredible bargain indeed. Sloppy drunks and lecherous older men inhabit this joint--which is exactly why it's so damn special to me. Even testy fellow Nester Mahkno would approve of the nongentrified state of Spec's. (CS)

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From the August 30, 1999, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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