Best People Who Get Us Drunk - 2008
It costs a lot to catch a buzz in this town. Some places charge $7 for a pint of beer. Given the high cost of getting lit, it's important to have bartenders who know what they're doing. These are a few of our favorite drink-slingers around town.
Joel Baker, Bourbon & Branch
501 Jones (at O'Farrell), 346-1735
Pensively and meticulously — that's how Baker goes about creating cocktails. Usually, he's creating right there on the spot. For instance, his most recent invention — a refreshing mix of rum, Aperol, basil liqueur, fresh grapefruit juice, and elderflower syrup — is a take on a Rum Crusta, and it doesn't even have a name yet. Other standouts are his Ungaretti Fancy, a cachaça-based cocktail perfectly balanced with freshly squeezed Meyer lemons, blueberries, and tarragon. Even more flavorful is Baker's modest and adorably sweet disposition.
Andrea Campos, Jardinière
300 Grove (at Franklin), 861-5555;
The charming and hospitable Andrea Campos not only creates drinks that are entirely delicious, she also has the kind of welcoming personality that can make a place as posh as Jardinière feel like a regular ol' living room. We were downright flabbergasted at how equally congenial Campos and her staff are to every and any patron that sits down at its luxurious bar — be they the mom and son visiting from Detroit or the woman with the five-pound diamond ring. One of Campos' specialties, the Jasmine (a refreshing beverage that combines gin, Campari, and lemon juice), is sure to bring you back for more.
Daniel Hyatt, Alembic Bar
1725 Haight (at Cole), 666-0822
The guy is a mad scientist behind the bar. Fiddling with a wild array of in-house bitters and herbaceous items such as cinnamon seed and hop extract oil, what will be on Hyatt's menu next is always experimental. The mint julep with frankincense-infused brandy is friggin' ridiculous. Sure, go ahead and grimace when he suggests his newest creation, the Southern Exposure, the centerpiece of which is celery juice. And scream "Eureka! I found it!" because you just did: your new favorite cocktail. His Oh, Sweet Nothing cleverly brings together 18-year-old Flor de Cana rum, yellow chartreuse, and homemade rootbeer bitters; it's really something.
Saul Levy, Bimbo's
1025 Columbus (at Chestnut), 474-0365
Levy has bartended at Bimbo's for 20 years, and in that time he has mixed drinks for nearly every famous person who has waltzed through San Francisco. When the bar dies down during showtime, Saul picks up pen and paper and oftentimes sketches the performer onstage. He has a veritable homemade art museum behind him, with drawings of Phil Lesh and Friends, Tom Petty, James Brown, and many, many more. He's only too happy to regale inquiring minds with stories about his drawings and the behind-the-scenes action he gets to see from the bar.
Ronn Vigh, the Orbit Room
1900 Market (at Buchanan), 252-9525
Vigh is the Jackson Pollock of cocktail crafting. His delicious creations are thrown together with gusto, using whatever fresh fruits and herbs he's picked up from the store on his way to work. This probably explains why his drinks turn out looking more like swamps than a manicured garden, but do they taste delicious. His Peachy Queen is a heavenly blend of fresh nectarine, cucumber, ginger, and spicy rose geranium. This unassuming sweetheart also develops his drink menu based on your day: He has even devised cocktails for people who've suffered through hellish plane rides, relegated to the middle seat.