Rustic wood panels and Asian murals adorn the walls at Vanessa’s Bistro where happy hour happens every day from 3-6pm. It’s a delicious deal with great prices on drinks and savory small plates, all under $10. Bartender Anthony Lopipero welcomes customers from behind his friendly six-stool bar. “The intimacy is a luxury,” he says. “I know many of my regulars by name. Lopipero compares bartending at Vanessa’s to being back in high school. “It’s like hosting a party every night,” he says. “I walk down the street and get waves and hellos. It reminds me of my days in the hallways of high school.” His favorite part of the job is taking care of regulars, and the occasional professional athlete like Joe Montana and Draymond Green.
“I love the energy here,” says Lopipero. “Our customers mirror the city. There’s a mixed crowd that ranges from young to old. Favorite drink? “The 680 corridor is obsessed with oaky, buttery Chardonnay.”
A couple doors down, mixologist Casey Carr shows off his talents making Elderflower Collins, French Martinis, and Strawberry Blossoms at the lively Lokanta Grill & Bar. “On weekdays, we’re pouring for the business crowd at lunch and foodie couples at dinner,” says Carr. “On weekends, we’re packed. Entire families come in and people show up in party mode. Most of them are seeking a profound cocktail experience. They can drink.”
The experiences behind the bar can be colorful, fun, and challenging. Carr, who has poured Cabernet for Stephen Curry and his wife, Ayesha, says the biggest issue behind bartending in Walnut Creek is meeting customers’ expectations. “I shake them up as fast as I can,” he says. “Nothing is more difficult than a demanding customer during rush hour,” says Carr. “When I’m stressed and someone is polite, I make an extra effort to satisfy them. Being loving goes a long way.”
From its tiny watering hole on Olympic, Hawaiian-themed Tiki Tom’s is not much from the outside, but it’s got great vibes inside. On late night weekends, a snake line of customers wait outside for pupu platters and flaming cocktails. “You have to multitask and be quick or you’ll drown behind the bar in this city,” said Deeba Ebrahimi, one of the bartenders at Tiki Tom’s. With some of the best shopping in the region across the street at Broadway Plaza, patrons here run the gamut. Weekdays are filled with neighborhood regulars, but weekends are a different story. That’s when the bar is packed with people from all over. Ebrahimi says bars bring the community together. She loves seeing the locals drop by to hang out, have a drink and relax. “We draw a mix of middle-aged regulars during the day and a younger crowd at night. New faces are always coming in. People are respectful in this city.”—Dale Tafoya