The Playlist Dilemma

Lately, I have almost become more obsessed with creating the ultimate playlist for our restaurant, than I have with cocktail recipes.

Some points:

  1. Almost all restaurants (and bars) have some sort of background music.
  2. The music has two audiences, primarily those who dine in the restaurant, but also those who work in the restaurant.

To the first point, the selection of music is important for the mood and feel of the restaurant. The management typically makes the call on what sort of music they want to hear in their restaurant.

A lot of restaurants these days are choosing to leave this choice to services like Muzak or Pandora.

As a music nerd, I prefer, and hope, that someone in the restaurant has enough vested interest that they have gone to the trouble to choose the music. One of my pet peeves is when you hear an awesome song in a restaurant, ask a server what it is, and they say, “I dunno, it’s the Morrisey Pandora Station.”

Or even worse, when you hear an awful song you never wanted to hear again in your life, and they say, “Eh, it’s the Flock of Seagulls Pandora Station, sorry about that.”

The question is, “How do you please the management, the staff, and the customers?”

Some People You Should Get a Drink From Before They Die

Who To Drink, Virginia Miller for the San Francisco Bay Guardian

Or, as Steven Liles put it, “4 Old Guys, and a Young Gal, You Should Get a Drink From Before They Die.”

I was honored to be included in the list of awesome bartenders! Here are the questions Virginia sent and some expansion on my answers.

Erik Ellestad first landed on the cocktail map in 2006 with his blog, Savoy Stomp — during his off hours as a tech engineer he began working his way through the classic Savoy Cocktail Book, one recipe at a time. This led to monthly gathering and demonstration Savoy Cocktail Book Nights at revered Upper Haight cocktail hotspot the Alembic since 2008, and bartending at chic SoMa Chinese restaurant Heaven’s Dog since its opening in January 2009. He’s an expert on classic recipes; his technically-minded side informs his precision and sense of balance.

I started getting involved in online cocktail related forums, including DrinkBoy and Webtender, in the early 2000s. Joined in 2005. In June of 2006, I started the Savoy Stomp topic in the Spirits and Cocktails forum on eGullet, documenting my efforts to sequentially make every single drink in the Savoy Cocktail Book. For a while in this period, I also served as one of the hosts of that forum. Later in 2006, I started a personal blog with similar content to the Savoy Stomp on Eventually, keeping both in sync got to be too much of a drag, and I moved the Stomp entirely to my personal blog,

1. Please list for me what bars you’re tending at currently and how many years you’ve been bartending.

I work at Heaven’s Dog and help host Alembic Bar’s monthly Savoy Cocktail Book Night. However, I am most well known for the blog project I began in June of 2006 to make and document every cocktail in the Savoy Cocktail Book. The Alembic staff and I have been doing the Savoy Nights together since November of 2008 and I’ve been bartending at Heaven’s Dog since we opened in January of 2009. I also work part time for the University of California, here in San Francisco, as a Unix Systems Administrator.

2. Where are you from and how does that influence your bartending style and taste?

I’m an honest hard working boy from a small town near Madison, Wisconsin. Other than developing my taste for beer, cheese, and Old-Fashioned Cocktails, I don’t think growing up in Wisconsin particularly affected my bartending. However, the 10 years I spent as a line and prep cook while living in Madison, definitely affected both the way I approach cocktails and how I prioritize tasks while bartending.

3. What is your area of expertise or obsession: a spirit, cocktail style, category or region of drink?

Pre-prohibition American beverages, bars, and taverns. Almost all my real favorite cocktails go back to the 19th, early 20th Centuries, or before, and most of the books I most enjoy reading are about that period as well.

4. What do you drink most during off hours?

To be honest, now that I’ve nearly finished the Savoy Cocktail Book Project, I’ve been taking a bit of a break from drinking cocktails. You’ll most often find me drinking beer or wine. I have a special interest in small producers and natural process products.

5. What cocktail are you making lately that is exciting you, whether your own or someone else’s, recipe?

Inevitably, people ask regularly for “bartender’s choice” or “something you have been working on”.

Since you can’t say, “Well, I’ve been working on being a more engaging host,” or, “I’ve been working on my wine service and knowledge,” I try to learn a new or classic cocktail a week, so I have an easy answer to the question.

This week I was inspired by Leopold’s Navy Strength Gin to perfect the Inca Cocktail.

Inca Cocktail

3/4 oz Leopold’s Navy Strength Gin
3/4 oz Dolin Dry Vermouth
3/4 oz Carpano Antica Itailian Vermouth
3/4 oz Manzanilla Sherry
teaspoon Small Hand Foods Orgeat
1 dash Orange Bitters

Add ice and stir until well chilled. Strain into a small cocktail glass and garnish with an orange twist.

6. What are your current favorite off-hours hangouts for food or drink?

There are many awesome cocktail bars in this city, too many to list really. But, since I live in Bernal Heights, the places I get to most often are in my neighborhood: Gialina for pizza, Papalote for Burritos, Front Porch for Soulful American food, and Ichi Sushi, for, well, awesome Sushi. If my wife and I are splurging, we’ll go out to Bar Tartine, Bar Jules, or Commonwealth. Other than the bars I work in, you’ll find me at Rock Bar waiting for a table at Front Porch, Glen Park Station waiting for a table at Gialina, St. Mary’s Pub or Royal Cuckoo on the way to Ichi Sushi, and Wild Side West.

7. What musical style or band/musician keeps you pumped and motivated during those late bartending nights – or most encapsulates your bartending style?

I need to write up a whole post about how obsessed I’ve become about restaurant playlists! But the core of the playlist I’ve come up with for Heaven’s Dog is the box set of Stax/Volt Soul singles from 1959 through 1968. In addition, I like to throw in some Ska, Reggae, African, and Brazilian music.

I wish there was some way, though, that you could say pick from a certain set of songs from 5-7, another from 7-10, and a final one from 10-midnight.

Don’t You Get Tired of Pouring?

The other night, one of our regular guests asked me, “Don’t you get tired of pouring things?” which kind of amused me.

But it also reminded me, I never did a round up of the writeups I did for ‘Cocktail’ Boothby’s “Ten Commandments for Bartenders” a couple years ago.

So after working as a bartender 3 nights a week for the last 9 months or so, has it afforded me any added perspective for these ‘Commandments’?

Boothby’s Ten Commandments for Bartenders

I. Always be on time to relieve the other watch. It is a good plan to make a practice of arriving a few minutes early so as to arrange your toilet and step to your station on time.

I stand by everything I said in the previous post, but will also add, you should not only be on time, but also have eaten before your shift. Seems a little odd to say you should eat before going to work at a restaurant, but the fact of the matter is, if the restaurant is busy, you may not get to take your break until nearly close. There is nothing uglier than the freak out caused by a lot of caffeine and a little booze on an empty stomach.

II. See that your finger nails are always clean and your person presents a tidy appearance.

Nothing new to add here, bartending is a minor adjunct to the performing arts, your appearance and carriage is as important as your ability to make drinks.

III. Always appear pleasant and obliging under all circumstances.

When I arrived one night, my boss called me to say that the other person who normally worked couldn’t make it. I would be on my own for the course of the evening. His comment was, “You’ll probably go down in flames, but the most important thing is to go down in flames gracefully.” The ability to keep your composure and grace under just about any situation is one of the most important skills you need to develop as a bartender. If you lose that, you lose the people on the other side of the bar.

IV. Avoid conversations of a religious or political nature.

As a performer, you don’t always get to choose your own lines. Something I might say to my wife, or language I might use with my friends may not be appropriate, or may even be offensive, to some random person who has come in to the bar for a drink. Gauge your situation and choose your words carefully. As a bartender you are setting the tone for the room.

V. When going off watch always dry and polish all the glassware and tools which you have used on your watch, and see that everything is in its proper place, so that your relief can work to advantage as soon as he arrives at his post.

You are part of a team, even if you never see the person who works the next day. Show them the respect they deserve by doing your job completely.

VI. Sell all the liquor you can, but use as little as possible yourself.

Different bars have different rules and cultures regarding drinking on the job. In some states, it is even illegal to have drunk within hours of going to work, let alone on the job. In San Francisco, there is no such law, so we are left to make our own choices. One of my coworkers said, “I don’t like to drink while I’m working, it messes with my time management skills,” which totally makes sense to me. If you are serious about the job, you need to know your limits and stick to your own rules.

VII. If you are troubled with sore feet, bathe them regularly. Avoid patched or ragged hosiery, and wear a comfortable shoe with a heavy sole. Light soles, low cut shoes or slippers should never be worn behind a bar.

I’ve gone through a bunch of different shoe and sock choices since I wrote this up originally. The above still makes sense, you definitely need a shoe with good arch support and a non-slip sole to be on your feet for 8 hours a day several days a week. I’m currently wearing Red Wing 607 6″ Boots and Woolrich 10-Mile Over-The-Calf socks.

VIII. Keep the floor behind the bar as dry as possible. It not only looks better, but you will find your health greatly improved by following this rule. Many bartenders contract rheumatism, neuralgia and many other serious complaints through carelessness in this report.

As far as health goes, still not sure about the wet floor, but you do need to keep yourself flexible and in pretty decent shape to avoid injury. Lower Back, Shoulders, Elbows, and Wrists are definitely the pain points. Keep those muscles flexible and in shape.

IX. After using a bottle or tool always replace it before doing anything else. Make this a rule that should never be broken; and, when you are rushed with business, you will never be compelled to hunt for this or that, but you will always know just where it is.

I still don’t have much to add to Andrew Bohrer’s eloquent post, “Get your fucking mise in order!” Go read it again.

X. After a party has finished drinking, remove the glassware from the bar as soon as possible, and dry and polish the bar top immediately, never allowing a particle of moisture to remain. This is a very important rule.

Again, I don’t have much to add to my previous post, but this quote from Philip Duff sums up much of what I have learned in the last 6 months, “I love taking care of people in a way that goes beyond drinks.” ‘Nuff said.


From the Savoy Cocktail Book:


“This ancient Silver bowl of mine, it tells of good old times,
Of joyous days and jolly nights, and merry Christmas Chimes,
They were a free and jovial race, but honest, brave and true,
That dipped their ladle in the punch when this old bowl was new.”

Thus runs the old drinking song by Oliver Wendell Holmes, a song among many that have lauded the old time jollity of Ye Punch Bowl.
The proper preparation of Punch requires considerable care: but there is one grand secret in- its concoction that must be mastered with patience and care. It is just this, that the various subtle ingredients be thoroughly mixed in such a way) that neither the bitter, the sweet, the spirit, nor any liquor be perceptible the one over the other. This accomplishment depends not so much upon the precise proportions of the various elements, as upon the order of their addition, and the manner of mixing. Below are given a selection of famous old Punch recipes worthy of careful study.

The next two sections of the book are “Punches.” and “Prepared Punches for Bottling”.

I haven’t quite figured out what to do about Punches.

There are about 15 in the book, most for larger groups of people.

I guess I could have a Punch party every week for the next 15 weeks, but that seems difficult, not just from a cost perspective.

Or I could scale them down to serve 3 or 4 people.

In any case, while I sort this out, I will probably skip ahead to the last section of the book, the “Cups”.

Overheard on MUNI

Overheard on the 22 Filmore MUNI Bus:

“I’m homeless right now. I was living in the occupy encampment, but my friend got stabbed the other day. He’s in the ICU at San Francisco General. I described the person who stabbed him to the police and the occupy people called me a snitch. They said they’d kill me if I came back.”

10 Mistakes that Could Doom Your Career as an IT Pro

10 Mistakes that Could Doom Your Career as an IT Pro
Randy Muller, MCT, MCTS, MCSE, CEH

“10. Lack of Soft/People Skills.

“A mistake many IT Professionals make is to assume that their IT skills will see to their advancement and not their Soft or People skills. We all know of an IT Pro who is fantastic at their job – one who can write code faster than you make a martini. But there are times when it is the Martini maker who is advanced ahead of the programmer. This is due to soft skills. IT Pros who can talk in non-geek speak and who can interact with end users and customers who will be in demand. If you want to move into the C-level rank, you need to get involved in other areas that will emphasis your people skills in addition to your techie skills.”

As a Martini maker and IT Pro, I am not sure how I feel about this comment…

Also, does the converse apply?

Tough Week

Oof, what a tough week. Sick with a sinus infection, Mrs. Flannestad out of town for a conference.

Came home after a night at the bar to find the dog had been sick in his crate while I was away, and remained sick pretty much all night and into the morning.

Felt so bad to leave him the second night and worried that he would be OK.

He was sick again when I got back we were both up again for a second night and into the morning.

Worried that he had gotten some parasite, called the vet, collected a fecal sample to drop off, then realized, out of all the variables in what he had eaten, it was probably the “treat” I had given him before heading to work both nights. They must have gone off since the last time I had given him one.

How bad do I feel for making him sick?

So, no Savoy Cocktails this week.

Barely kept it together, as is, was.

Mrs. Flannestad gets back today, dog and I are both feeling better.

It’s looking like a bright, sunny, California day.

Life in the Service Industry

“What? You actually want to work more in bars!? I used to work in bars, and those were some strange years. You must work in a nice bar.”

You know, it’s funny, when I ran the idea of giving up tech for working in bars past various friends, it was the people who actually worked in bars who tended to be more circumspect.

The people who I work with in Tech were mostly all, “Dude! You could be bartending for a living!? And you’re not doing it!? Live the dream, bartenders are cool!”

Whereas, those who currently worked in bars, or had worked in them in the past, were more like, “Well, it would be great for the bartending community and our restaurant if you did work here, but think about how it will work out with your wife and your schedules.” Or, “I liked making cocktails, but by the end of the week, I just couldn’t deal with the customer service aspect of the job.” Or, “It’s one thing to work once in a while, like you’ve been doing, but entirely another to do it for a living. Not so glamorous mopping vomit, clearing clogged toilets, and scouring the graffiti off the mirrors.”

Life in the Service Industry

A representative from a large liquor company was in to our fine establishment the other night.

Among the products he was presenting to us was Pink Pigeon Rum.

One of my coworkers was playing with the odd pink rubber ring around the neck of the bottle.

“So what is this rubber ring on the Pink Pigeon bottle? A Live Strong Bracelet?”

“No, it’s a cock ring.”


“Do you want to hear the story?”

Well, what bartender can resist a good story?

The story of Pink Pigeon Rum, as relayed to us by the company representative:

Berry Brothers and Rudd were negotiating for a lot of well aged rum from a small island in the South Pacific. However, when they arrived on the Island, they discovered the stocks of the aged rum were lower than expected, not enough to bring a product to market.

This prompted the representative from Berry Brothers & Rudd to have one of the sorts of sociopathic hissy fits which our society allows in entitled executives, but discourages in the underprivileged.

“*(#()@P!!! What else do you have on this Godforsaken rock that would make my trip worthwhile? The only other thing I know of from this island is the $*#(@&! Dodo and it’s &$#*@&! extinct!!”

The representative from the island, mistaking the executive’s venom for an interest in local fauna replied, “No sir, not just Dodo, we also have the Pink Pigeon, which is only nearly extinct. It is pink, like flamingos, from eating shrimp. But it is nearly extinct because the boy pigeons don’t like to mate with the girl pigeons. Girl pigeons are hens, what is your word for boy pigeon?”

“We call them cocks.”

“Ah, yes, so every time we find a cock which does like the hens, we put a ring on it. A cock ring.”

So, apparently, this exchange not only entertained the executive enough to create a vanilla flavored, spiced rum named “Pink Pigeon”, but he also decided it would be extremely amusing to put a Cock Ring on the neck of every bottle of the Rum.

I will leave it to you to decide as to whether they should also have included a packet of condoms with every bottle.

It was the best of times…

With apologies to Charles Dickens.

It was the best of times…

Technology jobs booming like no other industry, Heather Perlberg, Bloomberg News

“Among U.S. technology companies with a market value of more than $100 million, almost 50 increased employment by more than half in the most recently reported two-year period, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Some small and midsize businesses boosted payrolls by almost fivefold, underscoring the resilient demand for Internet services, software and electronics.”

…It was the worst of times…

Old Techies Never Die; They Just Can’t Get Hired as an Industry Moves On, By AARON GLANTZ

“While Web-based companies like Facebook and Google are scouring the world for new talent to hire, older technology workers often find that their skills are no longer valued…Kris Stadelman, director of NOVA, the local work force investment board, which released a survey of human resource directors at 251 Bay Area technology companies last July, said that in her experience, candidates began to be screened out once they reached 40.”