I remember the first time I saw former 49er quarterback Steve Bono in our store because he was the fourth rather famous athlete I had seen in my first few months on the job. Ralph Sands, our premier Bordeaux expert (and resident Bay Area sports superfan), is pals with a number of legendary figures, so it's not uncommon to see them wander in for a bottle of wine. It turns out that a lot of former local sports icons love booze; and Ralph had turned a number of them on to the fine wines of France. I thought to myself, "Wow, you never know who you're going to run into at K&L," as I continued to see faces from my youth—fresh off the Wheaties box—hand me their credit card as I rung them up. It's pretty fun to have these parts of your life overlap. David OG is always telling me about the big wig celebrities who stroll into the Hollywood store. Sometimes I say, "Oh my God! I would have tackled him and given him a big hug!"
"That's exactly why we don't let you work in Hollywood," David says in response.
But luckily for me (and Steve Bono), it has never come to that in Redwood City. Steve has always been a wine customer at K&L, but over the last five years he's been one of my many whiskey customers who's interested in expanding his collection of hard booze. When I thought about starting this Drinking to Drink interview series, Steve was one of the first guys I wanted to speak with, and he was more than happy to sit down with me for a quick discussion about drinking. We talk Bourbon, buying gifts for Joe Montana, and the best post-round cocktail for when you're out on the green. Check out our conversation below:
David: I know that you like Bourbon because that’s what you usually ask me about when you’re looking for a bottle, but is that your drink of choice?
Steve: I like either Bourbon or rye. Gosh—I think it’s always been one of my favorites. One of the first cocktails that I ever started drinking regularly was a Manhattan.
David: Would you say that you developed this taste while playing in the NFL, or would this be a post-football discovery?
Steve: Good question. I’d say I started drinking Manhattans while I was still playing, but probably not until my 30s; definitely not at the beginning of my career. I’d say it was one of the first serious cocktails my wife Tina and I ever tried up to that point together.
David: What did you drink before that primarily?
Steve: Mostly beer. I got into making cocktails when we first got married—in the late 80s—and one of the first cocktails I can remember making back then—I’m not sure I even want to call it a cocktail (laughs)—was a frozen margarita that long-time friends still remind me now. They say, “I still remember that recipe you made,” when we have drinks today. We got it out of an entertaining magazine or cookbook.
David: When you were playing in the NFL was it normal for the players to grab a drink after the game, or were you so exhausted and dehydrated at that point that you didn’t feel like alcohol?
Steve: When I was playing we for sure went out to eat after the game. Maybe not the whole team together, but definitely a smaller group of five to six guys and our significant others. That was true pretty much all the way through my career. In Kansas City, we had an area for the team and organization to go grab a drink in the stadium immediately following the game, but it was only beer and wine—definitely not cocktails.
David: Who’s the biggest booze aficionado that you ever played with?
Steve: Ha, ha (laughs)! Two people come to mind. Biggest aficionado would have to be Joe Montana. He and I have always drunk together. He’s a little bit older than I am, so I’ll say that he got into it first, but we’ve definitely grown in our love of drinking together. The best drinker I ever played with was Tim Harris—by far. For good and bad (laughs).
David: Tim Harris, as in the defensive lineman who did the cowboy shoot-em-up after he sacked someone?
Steve: Exactly! Very good.
David: I remember him well. I thought that was the coolest thing ever when I was a kid. I used to do it when I played football in the backyard with my cousin. It looks like I'm emulating him now again later in life! When you ended up going to Kansas City with Montana, did the enjoyment of booze continue on away from the Bay Area?
Steve: Yes. Obviously, all the different types of Bourbon we’re drinking today weren’t readily available back then, so to the extent we could be into whiskey, we were. But nothing like we are nowadays. You know better than anyone about all the different selections available today. It’s incredible.
David: I remember a while back when you wanted to get Joe a birthday present and you were looking for the A.H. Hirsch 16 year old. I can’t remember—did we ever get him that bottle?
Steve: We did get him that bottle.
David: Did you get to try it with him?
Steve: I did, yes.
David: What did you think? Did it live up to the hype?
Steve: It was delicious. I don’t know if I could say it was the best Bourbon ever, but it was very good.
David: Did Joe know the historical significance? Did he realize what it was?
Steve: Absolutely, he did. It came in a great case, too; a humidifier to keep the cork moist and info that explained the whole story, too. It was the perfect gift.
David: What’s your particular Bourbon of choice these days?
Steve: For my everyday pour I really like the Breaking & Entering from St. George. That’s good.
David: What would you treat yourself with, maybe once a month?
Steve: I’m fortunate to have a bunch of different things I’ve either bought for myself or that others have bought for me. One of the partners that I work with gave me a bottle of Colonel E.H. Taylor a while back and I thought that was delicious. I tasted a rye whiskey at a friend’s house recently called Twelve Five that I thought was also quite good. It wasn’t hot and the flavors were quite wonderful, I thought.
David: How many bottles do you have open at your house? More than thirty?
Steve: No, not more than thirty. I’d say about a dozen. Thirteen—that’s a good number (laughs).
David: You have the same number of bottles open as your old jersey number! I’m glad you’re enjoying what you have rather than constantly opening new things. I don’t want you to burn out! Did you ever drink high-end hooch while you were on the road playing football?
Steve: When I was playing in Kansas City, my wife Tina and I went to Chicago for a night away—it might have been Green Bay actually—and we were sitting in a bar having a cocktail. I guess I wasn’t talking much—which isn’t unusual—and she bumped me and said, “What are you looking at?” I said, “I’m looking at that bottle of Louis the 13th up on that top shelf.” I was trying to calculate how much was left because if there’s only one shot left the unwritten rule is that the customer who orders it gets to keep the bottle. The Louis 13th bottles are made from Baccarat crystal, if I’m not mistaken, so I eyed it for a while as we sat there drinking. Finally I asked the bartender, “Can I have a shot of Louis the 13th?” and he said, “No, we only have one shot left and it’s reserved for the owner.” I knew then I had calculated that right, as I had been sitting there looking at it for some time. It was clear he didn’t want to give away the bottle.
David: He really wouldn’t sell it to you? That’s crazy. It’s not like they couldn’t have purchased another one after that.
Steve: Nope, he wouldn’t do it. That was the only time I can remember trying to order something high-end on the road. And I was denied!
David: Did you celebrate with anything special after you ran that 76-yard bootleg back for a touchdown against Arizona; the play that—at that point—was the longest touchdown run by a quarterback ever?
Steve: Ha, ha (laughs)! Well, by NFL rule at that time—in Kansas City—we weren’t allowed to have beer on the plane, so I think I had a little shot of Remy XO because one of my teammates had a little briefcase he carried that fit one bottle of Remy perfectly. I won’t mention any names, but I had a little sip of that to celebrate the game.
David: Did you get anything cool for playing in the Pro Bowl? You made the squad for your Kansas City performance in 1995. I like to imagine you drinking Bourbon out of a big golden Pro Bowl trophy.
Steve: Unfortunately, you don’t get anything you can drink out of. You get a watch—a Pro Bowl watch. You get a nice bonus check, but I don’t remember how much it was for. Then you get lots of paraphernalia from sponsors—like Nike.
David: What about for the Super Bowl. Is it just rings? No Super Bowl Champions mug?
Steve: No, I don’t think I have anything celebratory to drink out of except for some nice glasses from the First Tee Foundation that I put my cocktails in.
David: Tee, as in golf tee?
Steve: Yes, as in golf.
David: How often do you play golf these days?
Steve: As often as possible!
David: What do you drink while you’re out there on the green?
Steve: You know what, I don’t usually drink when I’m on the golf course; even when it’s a charity event, which are usually more fun and casual. I’ve never really been a fan of drinking while moving. I’d rather sit and enjoy a drink after I’m done. After a round on a nice warm day I love having a gin and tonic.
David: Absolutely! There’s no other possibility!
Steve: A little Fever Tree; one of the nicer tonics, you know? That’s all I need.