California Life Part 3 - Gillian
I met Gillian Fitzgerald a few weeks ago when she was teaching a Cocktail class at the Workshop, she's part-owner and bartender at Virgil's Sea Room, and small world that it is, turned out she'd been in college with my sister. Originally from Hill of Tara in Meath, she's been living and bartending in San Francisco since 2008. Last Friday I was at Virgil's and chatted to Gill over a beer and her signature cocktail, the Dick Vivian.
I first came to San Francisco on my J1 and loved it. I worked in Fishermans Wharf, made a bunch of friends who I'm still friends with today. I couldn't wait to come back and I came back the next year. After I graduated from DIT I worked in property in the Dominican Republic for a few years. Went back home to Ireland, but my job there fell through, there was very little happening in the property market at the time. So I came back to San Francisco and worked at a construction company. After that I got into bartending, I remembered how much I'd loved it when I was younger. But I'd always wanted to work for myself and opened Virgils a year ago with my two business partners.
We're a great team together (business partners Lila Thirkield owner of the Lexington Club in the Mission and Tom Temperano (DJ Carnita, political activist and promoter). We had been in the same industry for a while, but from different backgrounds and we all bring something different to the table. I lived across the street 10 years ago and used to come into this bar all the time when it was Naps, then we had the opportunity to take it over and went for it.
At Virgil's we don't care who you are, where you come from or what you work at - as long as you're cool to people around you and respectful, we're really happy to have you here. I've seen lots of new friendships grow, we're lucky, it's worked. It's a fantastic neighbourhood (Bernal/Mission), it's like the Mission was 5 or 10 years ago, there's so many great little bars around here and places to eat, people are really friendly. There's a lot of small businesses and everyone knows each other. There's a mix of new people and some who've been here for years, so it's an interesting dynamic.
What's your signature drink?
The Dick Vivian is a variation on the negroni with Bombay Sapphire Gin, Noilly Prat Vermouth and Cynar. We make ours with Cynar, an artichoke amaro, it's a good mix. A Boulevardier is my favourite drink at the moment, basically a negroni with bourbon instead of gin.
They're named after local icons, people who made a difference to peoples lives. The city's built on people who do their own thing the way they want to do it, both from here and who moved here. Warren Hellman created the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, when he died he left money to pay for it for another ten years. Sugar Pie DeSanto from The Fillmore was one of Etta James' back-up singers, and an awesome singer in her own right. Vicki Marlane was a drag queen who performed for over five decades and paved the way for other drag performers in the city. Dick Vivian is one of my best friends and has been a really important mentor to me, he owns a record store Rooky Ricardo's which is probably one of my favourite places in the city, you have to go there before you leave!
Is the bar scene different to at home?
Very much so, people here are more up for trying new and different drinks. I find when Irish people come here on holidays they're a little more adventurous and will try new stuff.
It's a lot easier to get people out of a bar on last call! I miss the banter and craic at home, growing up in the country bars are a social outlet.
The wallpaper was always there, from the 60's, it was hidden under posters, we fixed it up a little and painted the shelves.
How did you get into doing the classes at Workshop?
My friend Kelly Malone owns Workshop and my other friend Kelly McVicker was teaching there for about 3 or 4 years and had been talking about doing something together so we came up with the concept of the Bloody Mary and Pickle class that we do, it's a lot of fun. I like to be busy when I'm not working here!
What's your favourite bar in the city, besides Virgils?