SF, are you ready for this beautiful new wine bar that feels as if an Austrian chalet was dropped into North Beach? Your jaw is gonna drop. Owners Jay Esopenko and Melissa Gugni (Union Larder, Little Vine) are hoping to open next Tuesday October 3rd, pending inspections. They are opening in the former Cinecittà space, and you won’t even recognize it. You’ll now notice the massive wood facade and huge door, crafted from redwood with little trademark diamonds you’ll see repeated as a design motif within.
After you swing open the big door, you’ll notice the soaring ceiling with stained Douglas fir beams—to the left is a standing area and a smooth walnut bar with resin diamond inlays and 10 seats (which are round padded barstools upholstered in a nubby wool fabric from Knoll, in a vintage green that will remind you of the ’60s and dive bars). There are six booths on the right with high bench seats for four guests (also upholstered), 24 seats in all. There is a marvelous birch bark that is like a wallpaper, tufts of moss included, under the bar and on the exterior side of the booths. Each of the booths have charming little lights with antlers, and the floor is made of French oak, the individual pieces forming a pattern that is like woven wicker—they were ordered from a French company that is more than 400 years old. They’re getting stained this week and are quite beautiful.
Behind the bar, the wall is covered with thin slats of redwood that look like lathe, and Esopenko stained by hand—along with the exposed brick. It all feels like a chalet that was unearthed—all these natural and wood elements create such a European woodsy feeling.
He worked with 8inc again on this project, who helped design Union Larder, and he did the majority of the work on his own (hours and hours and hours). The beautiful woodwork (the bar, booths, tables, kitchen counter, and facade/front door) was all done by Michael Bermosk, who has done a lot of work for Peter Doolittle, who is known for his woodwork at Nopa, Tartine Manufactory, Little Gem, and more.
Head to the back and you’ll find a patio complete with a fire pit and tables, with room for 35. It’s well shielded from the wind, and with the heat from the fire pit, it means we should be able to enjoy it well into the winter. Esopenko grew up in the Canadian Rockies in Alberta and always loved that après-ski time, that warm and cozy feeling you have over a beer and the fire after a day of skiing. It wasn’t too much of a leap to apply our foggy nights to that same vibe, and how nice it would be to enjoy a glass of riesling, a sausage, and a fire.
So, yeah, let’s get to what you’re going to be enjoying! Esopenko has curated a wine list that celebrates the wines you’d find around the Alps, from regions like the Jura to Valle d’Aosta and Slovenia. It’s a chance to highlight riesling, his favorite and a total passion, and you’re going to find some California producers as well, like Tatomer and Matthiasson, with bottlings of gruner veltliner, riesling, and more. There will be 45 wines by the glass (!), with some on tap, including their exclusive white (green Hungarian) made for The Salzburg by Sandlands, and a red (a blend of zweigelt, blaufränkisch, and dornfelder) made for them by Trail Marker winery—and they’re just $10-$11 by the glass! The wine bottle list will be released in a month or so—they want to focus on the by-the-glass program first. There are four beers on tap, with many more in the bottle.
Chef Ramon Siewert will now be overseeing The Salzburg’s and Union Larder’s kitchens and menus. The menu here is structured around small plates that you can share, with some Alpine heritage, but not direct facsimiles of classic dishes, like flammenküche, fondue, beef goulash, spätzle stroganoff, a schnitzel sandwich, and the very cleverly named Salzburger. And then there’s the jäger pommes, which sounds like Alpine poutine: french fries, wild mushrooms, gravy, and Gruyère. Sign me up.
A main highlight are the housemade sausages: käsekrainer (a classic, made with pork and Emmentaler cheese), bratwurst, kaninchenwurst (rabbit), and meeresfrüchte wurst (shrimp seasoned with chorizo spices), and Esopenko says they have mastered the perfect snap. Siewart is moving his housemade charcuterie production to the basement space here and will be supplying all three of their businesses. Their epic cheese and charcuterie boards will be on offer here as well.
I’ll keep you posted next Tuesday if they passed all their inspections as planned and will be opening. Hours will be Tue-Wed 4pm-10:30pm, Thu-Sat 4pm-12am, and Sun 4pm-10pm. They plan to launch brunch a month later, and then lunch is being discussed too. 663 Union St. at Columbus.
Meet your new wine chalet, right in the heart of North Beach. All photos: © tablehopper.com.