Peninsula/27 inches/dp1st/mark2nd

By LARRY KANTER

Senior Reporter

Standing behind the bar at the Peninsula Hotel, Nicole Balick grabs a slender bottle of Belvedere vodka and pours the clear liquid into a silver cocktail shaker full of ice. A quick splash of vermouth, and she hoists the container over her right shoulder, rattling it dramatically, like a maraca.

"Shake it, baby!" a somewhat sodden, gray-haired patron slurs. He laughs and looks up hopefully, before retreating back to his tumbler of vodka and melting ice.

If Balick hears the comment, she doesn't let on. A bartender for more than five years, she is well acquainted with the unholy cocktail of alcohol and testosterone. Besides, things could be worse. At least she's no longer earning her rent serving kamikazes to rowdy twentysomethings at Hollywood watering holes.

If this is what constitutes an unruly drunk, so be it. She places the martini on a cocktail tray, tosses an empty glass into the sink, and hurries on to the next customer.

"It's not a big deal," says Balick, a 26-year-old San Diego native with dark, shoulder-length hair, dark eyes and an engaging smile who has been pouring drinks at the Beverly Hills hotel bar for two years.

A voiceover actress by day (you've heard her if you've ever seen the promos on MTV or VH1), she's accustomed to the spotlight, and knows better than most how valuable a thick skin can be, especially in this town.

"People are people," Balick says. "And, obviously, we try and be personable."

The coddling of customers extends far beyond the bar. It's been a hallmark of the Peninsula since the hotel opened in 1991. This, after all, is a place where guests are greeted by doormen clad in white pajamas and matching skullcaps a not-so-subtle appeal to fantasies of colonial privilege.

The Club Bar strives for the ambience of an English gentleman's club. It's all polished wood and soft light, oil-painted landscapes in gilded frames on the walls, tables tucked into shadowed corners, and plush barstools crowded around a dark birch bar, where a premium martini will set you back more than 10 bucks.

As many as 450 customers will come through the bar on a typical Friday night, for total alcohol receipts of almost $7,000. Balick and her partner behind the bar, Daniel Evans, will pour some 900 drinks between them. Citing the long finger of the IRS, Balick refuses to disclose her nightly tips. But it's easy to do the math. If the average tip is 20 percent, she could take home more than $200 a night.

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