Brian Means had a humbling start in the cocktail business. “The first place I worked at was P.F. Chang’s. It was awful. Some of the stuff they made us do was just disgusting.” But he’d do it all again as he now heads the amazing bar program at Fifth Floor.
Means never knew he was going to end up in the business. He had thoughts of business school and even becoming a firefighter. But he quickly fell in love with bartending during his time at Chow in Danville and Zero Zero in San Francisco. And now he’s hooked.
“I’m fortunate to be working with such a great team in the kitchen. They are doing some amazing things. Plus, they bring in so much great produce,” Means said. “It really allows me to be creative in what I’m doing with cocktails for the bar and restaurant.” Means said that in San Francisco, he sees more bar programs going heavily to that bar-to-glass methodology. “When I used to go to the farmer’s markets, I would only see chefs from around town. But now, I’ll see bartenders each week grabbing fresh produce to use in their drinks. There’s so much available in the Bay Area that it’s only right that we use it in cocktails the way chefs use it in their dishes.”
The cocktail list at Fifth Floor is a lot about the classics. “The Martini Over Time” and “Ode to the Negroni” are both wonderful tributes to those drinks, with customers able to choose from six different Negroni options or build their own martinis. But that doesn’t Means gets bored behind the bar. “I’m always working on something new whether it’s behind the bar or in the kitchen,” he said. “We change the menu with the seasons but there are also plenty of favorites that stick on the list.”
Like “The Pink Elephant” (Beefeater Gin, lemon, Small Hands Pineapple Gum, Rosato Vermouth, orange bitters, smoked Absinthe). And yes, the smoked Absinthe is really smoked as Means “plays with fire” by burning off the Absinthe prior to pouring the drink. “I was taught early by my dad, who was a cook, that presentation is hugely important in the industry. It’s funny because when I’m making a Pink Elephant for a table in the lounge, people at the bar will ask what I’m making and then order three more,” Means said. “It’s also part of appealing to the senses of your customers: sight, taste, smell.” Hence, “Sparrows In The City,” (Oro Torontel Pisco, Applejack, lemon, egg white, grenadine, Atomized Bitters) which has a cool bird resting on the top of the foam.
There is also a wide-ranging beer list to choose from, featuring predominantly local-brews. And despite some people’s pre-conceived notions, working at a hotel restaurant actually has plenty of advantages. “We actually get a nice mix of hotel guests and regulars as well. We’ll get a ton of people in from Union Square who might want to grab a drink and some food. And the great food coming out of the kitchen is just another reason why the culture of hotel restaurants has changed,” he said.
While he might not light anything on fire, be sure to check out the innovative and fun drinks Brian Means comes up with next at Fifth Floor (and just a warning, if you don’t try the 9 Herb Charm with strawberry-infused tequila, you’re sorely missing out). The Fifth Floor is located on the fifth floor of The Hotel Palomar (12 4th Street). The restaurant is open Tuesday-Saturday from 5:30-10:00; the lounge is open Monday-Saturday from 5-Midnight.
Photo Credit: The Fifth Floor