Raising the Bar: Jeff Lyon
In San Francisco’s industrial Dogpatch neighborhood on the city’s eastern edge, the new laidback bar Third Rail is quietly but assuredly marking its territory.
“Dogpatch is kind of the frontier of San Francisco, an old-school neighborhood with a lot of new tech and medical developments,” says Jeff Lyon, Third Rail’s charming co-owner and barman. “It’s real out here, and the majority of our customers live from within 10 blocks of the bar.”
It’s not just locals that are stepping up to the Rail, named in part after the wildly dangerous third rail of the T-line which runs down nearby Third Street. Nightly, cocktail fans from across the city journey to have Lyon’s drinks. Most of them know him from his longtime role as the bar manager of the beloved San Francisco restaurant Range. “Hands-down the best restaurant experience I’ve had,” Lyon says of the local favorite. “The attention to detail; the use of fresh, seasonal and local products; the level of respect; and the creative collaboration. I looked forward to work every day — almost.” Eager to open a joint of his own, he partnered with Range’s chef-owner, Phil West, to open Third Rail.
Range is where the California-bred Lyon refined his palate and honed his craft cocktail and service skills, but most important, where he accepted his fate. “I quit Range to be a high school English teacher, but I found out right away it wasn’t for me,” he recalls. “I was fortunate enough to get my bar job back.”
Prior to that quick-fire realization, Lyon had been washing dishes and bussing and waiting tables since the age of 18, yet he didn’t start bartending until a late-blooming 25, at an Italian restaurant in Minneapolis. There, he “noticed that the bartenders had a lot of fun even though the work was demanding.” So Lyon lied about his bar experience (none) and plunged in given a shot, becoming “efficient at making tons of vodka Martinis.”
These days at Third Rail, he is assembling thoughtful drinks like the 601 (Sutton Cellars Vermouth, Aperol, lemon, seltzer, bourbon), One for the Money (Cocchi Americano, lemon, elderflower, saffron, cardamom and Prosecco) and the Bone Machine (bourbon, sherry, amaro, Benedictine, Angostura bitters, orange bitters; pictured above). Lyon views Third Rail as an extension of Range, adhering to its same appreciation for quality cocktails and service. “Bars should be a social experience, and so should bartenders,” says Lyon. “We just want to be a really good bar.” And it is.