Jeff Russell

Jeff Russell is a new bartender on board the Vallejo ferry heading to San Francisco.

Jeff Russell recently scored a gig serving drinks on the Vallejo ferry route, but his true passion is music. Here he is rocking out in his band, Heavenís Heels.

Published: October, 2019

Jeff Russell is a new bartender on board the Vallejo ferry heading to San Francisco. When we met him he’d been at the job for about two months, and so far, he’s very happy to be here.  

“It’s a lot better than my last job,” he said. “I was a delivery driver for a company that delivered blood products to hospitals. The stress level was just through the roof.” The prospect of working amidst the calming vibes of San Francisco Bay every day made this career move an easy choice.  

“My favorite part of the job would actually be the people,” Russell said. “They’re just great to talk to and interact with.” Russell’s previous bartending experience was 15 years ago in a not-so-great West Sacramento neighborhood, and he had a clientele that wasn’t quite as friendly as our beloved Bay Area ferryboat riders.  

Russell graduated from bartending school in 2003. “When I was a bartender in Sacramento I was told that I actually made the best margarita in town, and that seems to still be true,” he said. “I got to serve a couple of them so far on board; people have come back and they’re just raving about it.” His secret, aside from his seemingly perfect recipe, is to use real lime juice—unsweetened, fresh-squeezed lime juice.  

What he’s still getting used to is the venue, as previous bars he’s worked at weren’t in a room that’s constantly rocking back and forth. “I’m still trying to get my sea legs,” he laughed. “It’s probably a good thing that I’m a musician because I know that rock-star guitar player stance, where you put one leg forward. Standing like that actually helps the rocking motion.”  

Russell plays guitar and bass, among other roles, for a melodic hard-rock band called Heaven’s Heels. “It’s like the opposite of saying hell’s heroes; it’s like heaven’s bad guys,” he explained. The band’s style is modern classic rock, similar to Black Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult. They released an album at the end of last year, recently released a live album from a show they played in Petaluma, and their second studio album is in the works. You can see them play at the Vallejo ArtWalk at Napa Smith Brewery on October 18.  

In addition to bartending on the ferry and rockin’ out with Heaven’s Heels, Russell is currently pursuing a degree in audio production at SAE Expression College in Emeryville.  

Russell also builds guitars in his spare time. “I buy old, broken down guitars and I refurbish them, put new parts in them and bring them back to life,” he said. “I made an Eddie Van Halen Frankenstein guitar copy, part for part. It’s a pretty fun thing.” He still takes requests. To make an inquiry on his Facebook page, search for Russ’s Rusty Guitar Restorations.  

Russell grew up in Fairfield and lived in Vallejo for about 12 years before getting married and moving to Pacheco last year. Back in the day about 20 years ago, Russell remembers getting a day pass for the ferry to go into San Francisco for fun, and something he’s noticed over the years is how the ferries have always provided a great service. “From a rider’s perspective, they’ve been pretty consistent.”  

Now, after working on the boats, Russell would agree even more that the ferry is the way to go if you need to travel across the Bay. “You can actually sit down and have a drink, kick your feet up at a table and relax, you have wi-fi—it’s like sitting in a diner while you’re going to or coming home from work.”

So say hi if you see Russell on board, maybe ask him to whip up one of his now-famous margaritas, and talk music with him—especially if you’re a fan of Sammy Hagar, Van Halen, or Pink Floyd’s The Wall.