Wayfare Tavern

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Photo by Brian Smeets for Grub Street.

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Photo by Brian Smeets for Grub Street.

This section is written by Erin Archuleta, half of the talent behind local outfit ICHI Catering and ICHI Lucky Cat Deli (at 331 Cortland in Bernal Heights). For updates, follow @ICHISUSHI on Twitter. Outside of the foodie world, Erin works full-time championing kid literacy at 826 National. Keep up with her @erinarchuleta.

Everyone’s been buzzing about what’s going on inside chef Tyler Florence’s new San Francisco signature restaurant Wayfare Tavern. Tyler’s vision—to create a welcoming destination for those coming from afar and locals alike—culminates in his new, Barbary Coast era, tri-level renovation of the former Rubicon space. The four-story building (including the kitchen prep basement) may seem a formidable project, but Tyler and his super-kind, well-run team have taken it in stride. This tall tavern has a feeling much like a meetinghouse, with smaller, more intimate spaces giving off the feeling of your own rumpus room or library.

It seems San Francisco is on the hunt for its roots, like nearby neighbor, the Comstock Saloon. While Comstock’s rich history has a past that could make you blush, Wayfare has a powder room for adjusting your rouge.

The shiny, marble-tiled entryway is inlaid with Wayfare’s logo, drawing inspiration from the dollar bill. A wooden, podium-style host stand and plush carpeted stairway take you up to a gorgeous space; it brought me back to my eighth grade trip to Washington, DC, and seeing the White House for the first time. (I can picture the Walkman, pink kitty purse, and pegged acid-washed pants tucked into my hi-tops now. If only I could erase that misjudged perm…) What I mean to say is that it brought me to a feeling of what I thought “grown-up spaces” to be. The place makes a big entrance, with some fun secrets behind the bar.

This writer does not mean to overstate the importance of a bar and restaurant, but there really is a regal, welcoming presence in the design. The color scheme of crisp whites, warm wood, rich navy and burgundy hues, along with the goldenrod logo, brings that magic, aspirational feeling of possibly even what’s being referenced and renaissanced in DC now. Tyler and his team have purposely stepped away from trendy and hip, and seem to have found some substance anchored in our coast’s history.

The main floor will have a large raw bar, with seasonal selections for the after work or meet-up crowd. The 50 seats in this dining room will have a view of the open kitchen, with bar seats perched right in front. There is a fireplace framed out by a large bison head (I suppose daring you to order boar or beef). Images of the Barbary Coast come to play with old pulleys that Tyler brought back from a trip up on the water at Drakes Bay. There are even some sweet references to the institution that was Rubicon by creating the wallpaper design from the original sconces that were here in the old dining room.

Upstairs, antique farmhouse chairs rest atop handsome reclaimed hardwood floors that were wire brushed from an old tobacco farm in Kentucky. The design team sourced antique lighting fixtures, taxidermy, small furnishings, and art to set the timeless scene. The large dining tables were all created locally (also from reclaimed wood) at The Wooden Duck in Berkeley. Burnished brass lighting fixtures and deep nickel silvers edge the antique bars.

Old coins were inlaid in the upstairs “Buck Bar,” complete with antlered deer hanging overhead. This level is where the antique pool table that people have been eager to catch a glimpse of will fit into the scheme. Housed under a period tin punch ceiling, it’s in a smaller room that will, in contrast to all of the throwbacks, also have a plasma TV. This room features a “Red Hot Phone,” a tradition from the hotel era of the time allowing guests to call down directly to the kitchen to order up a burger or other item from the menu. It’s not often that you get to shoot a game of pool and dial-in a steak!

This second floor also houses a separate pastry kitchen, possibly ending one of those long-standing feuds over who will use the oven and whether that pastry should really be exposed to that delicious meat-juice scent (turn to your neighbor and debate). All of Wayfare’s bread will also be baked upstairs. Note: To singles out there out for a first very hope-filled date, the scent of baking bread is rumored to set quite the mood.

Upstairs, the third floor houses a private dining room, wine cellar, and the old vault from when the building was a Wells Fargo bank. This floor is where the Bartlett Room will be, named after Lieutenant Washington A. Bartlett, the man instrumental in changing Yerba Buena Island into “San Francisco” in 1846. In this room, I got a peek at the plateware and simple flatware. Again, nothing too ornate—just clean, simple, and classic—printed with the restaurant’s logo. Hanging above us will be an oil painting of Lt. Bartlett himself, peeking on in judgment of our Levi’s dungarees and dinner disclosures. And, of course, Rubicon’s legendary wine room has been revamped to authenticate the feel of a 100-year-old space (most likely housing some of Tyler’s own wine.)

The fellas were shooting to create a place that will still have warm, stayed presence years from now. I do believe they’ve achieved the creation of welcoming an out-of-towner to a true gentlewoman or gentleman’s dining room, and patrons will return again and again for the large seasonal menu, supported by culinary director, Jason Rose (formerly of über-local La Cocina.) While the place may have been decorated with the Barbary Coast in mind, the warm wood of the South, and the crisp images of our nation’s capital would make any traveler feel at home. And, with neighbor Wexler’s so well received, this little block of Sacramento Street may once again be the go-to spot.

Wayfare Tavern