Posted on www.topis.com
By Ronn Vigh
Gay bars have stretched beyond the Castro San Francisco and poured into many San Francisco neighborhoods. Each establishment is manned by the most important part of your stay there: the bartender. A bartender's duties go beyond shaking and pouring.
They often have to be a willing ear, a deft drink designer, the person who knows when you've had too much to drink (or too little), a voice of reason, and a familiar face. However you mix it, bartending is not as easy as you think. While the San Francisco bar scene overflows with hardworking and crafty keepers of the bar, we thought we would get to know some of those familiar faces a little better.
Charming and easy on the eyes, Brad Liberti started bartending in San Francisco at Trax bar on Haight Street just a month after moving here from New York City. That was nearly seven years ago. Now 29, Brad regularly mans the bar at 440 Castro and doesn't think twice about the time and money spent at NYU for a degree in writing.
"I love the people I work with, my bosses and the customers, so why leave?" Like many of us, in Castro San Francisco Brad had bounced around in service jobs: from ticket-taker at a sprawling highway movie theater in New Jersey to waiter at gay cafes in New York City, before coming out West.
While he knew he liked working in nightlife, Brad didn't necessarily know where his money would come from until he found Trax Bar on Haight Street. "I was 22, and I didn't have a plan, but I always know a good thing when I have it and Trax was just right!"
Brad and I spoke once and compared our parallel experiences, both weaving bartending and writing in and out of our lives, until it comes up that we attended the same Catholic High School in New Jersey. Another hour quickly escapes, as we giggle over which teachers hated us, along with a few locker-room stories.
Much like his drinks of choice (Bud Light and shots of Fernet) Brad has an easy manner and a simple, pleasing way about him that makes him a natural behind the bar. Go check his place out Castro District residents.
"Nothing makes me happier then when everybody has a drink, people are talking and having fun, and the bar is in order," says Liberti. "I get my satisfaction from that; making people happy."
Outside of the bar, Brad admits to being a creature of routine, often sleeping in until 1pm, working out almost daily, keeping up with writing and watching lots of reality and daytime TV, including Bravo shows one of his favorites, and mine, Wendy Williams. "I may be in San Francisco, but it's just a little slice of Jersey for me."
Best in Town
Brad's efforts and those of his coworkers, has paid off. Readers of our parent publication, the Bay Area Reporter, recently voted Liberti and his 440 co-bartender Nick Mills as the best bartenders in the BAR's Best of the Gays poll. With such an excellent backing Castro San Francisco residents can expect a great time.
Mills moved to gay San Francisco 11 years ago. That's exactly how long he's been pouring at 440 Castro Street, which was then known as Daddies. With a deep voice and handsome demeanor, Nick mans the dimly-lit narrow bar and is fueled by the clientele.
"I love meeting new people, hearing where they're from and seeing them come back when they next visit. The locals and regulars always put a smile on my face when they see me behind the bar," says Mills. "After all, sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and I love the energy here from wild Friday nights to the lazy Sunday cruisy vibe."
While the bar life keeps him busy, Nick still sneaks in time to explore his passions and hobbies, which include drawing and honing his animation skills as well as the occasional visit to Pacifica archery practicing with his recurve bow. He also enjoys open water scuba diving. Nick's hobbies have helped him maintain a steady and welcome presence at 440. "I don't sit still for very long and I think it helps me not get too rooted in our Castro bubble."
If you want to shape your bar experience to be a smooth one, Nick offers some great words of wisdom from an experienced bartender. "If you want to get our attention when ordering, no need to shout or wave erratically. A kind smile works much better, we see everything and 440 is an attitude free zone," exclaims Nick. "Oh, and tip generously!"
He's a Lady
Down the street and around the corner from 440 Castro sits Toad Hall, where Preston Burford has worked since its inception. Unlike Brad, The 25-year-old Dallas native never expected to be bartending, let alone in the Castro. However, here he is and Castro San Francisco can be thankful.
"The job has helped me socially," says Burford. "When I first moved here I was beyond scared of the Castro and had only been to Badlands twice before I worked there."
Preston got his start in the nightlife industry, bar-backing at Badlands before moving up and then across the street to bartending duties.
While Preston has become well known in the Castro bar scene, his alter-ego, Lady TaTas, has also sprouted quite the following. Just as he never expected to bartend in the Castro, Burford says he never expected to do drag, either. "It started as a joke, where you had to dress in drag to get into a particular party, so I went dressed as Lady GaGa and it took off from there!"
Lady Tatas has grown to be the regular host of the monthly Wet and Wild Party at Club 8. Despite that event's wildness, Burford remains a man -and part-time drag queen- who likes to be surprised.
"Every single year my life feels more different, and never how I imagined it would ever be," says Burford. "I never expected to bartend, I never expected to do drag, so I don't know if I even have control of what happens next!"
Stir around the city and find your own personal "Cheers" amidst the expansive and ever changing bar scene. One can never have too many friends, and a best friend who is a bartender is always a handy addition to any address book.