A First Look at San Francisco’s Relaunched Café du Nord
With a new cocktail menu by the Bon Vivants, food by Ne Timeas, and a throwback vibe, the Swedish American Hall’s bar is back and better than ever.
Amid the Victorian-era buildings and new condos in San Francisco’s Upper Market, the diminutive Swedish American Hall stands out with its brick façade and Tudor-style architecture. Built in 1907 for the San Francisco Swedish Society, the storied hall and its basement bar Café du Nord have had many incarnations over the years: first serving Aquavit and brandy to Swedes, then as a Prohibition-era speakeasy, later a Basque restaurant, and most recently a live music venue. Now, after a prolonged renovation process, it's reopened with a new look and menu. I attended the opening party last week and caught up with Morgan Schick, creative director of the Bon Vivants, the nightlife gurus behind Trick Dog, the Mission’s go-to cocktail bar.
I followed the red neon sign and descended the stairs to find a bar that transported me back to 1907. Up front, bartenders were shaking cocktails at a long wooden bar illuminated by globe pendant lights while guests seated at café tables feasted on oysters and French fries with Neptune sauce.
During the renovation, the partners uncovered a piece of the original wainscoting and rebuilt the walls and stairway with the same wood to stay true to its history. “The whole place is an homage to old nightlife,” explained Schick. The Bon Vivants envisioned the cocktail menu as a loose timeline of San Francisco history with drinks representing different decades.
They’ve teamed up with Ne Timeas restaurant group (Flour + Water, Central Kitchen, Aatxe), who devised the menu of American bistro classics, including a raw bar and signature burger with secret sauce. Soaking in the atmosphere, I sipped a smooth house Martini made with Ford’s gin and oyster shell-infused vermouth while my friend imbibed a refreshing tequila cocktail with Chablis, peach, za’atar, and lime.
In the back room, comfortable booths and tables have a view of the stage where musicians perform, ensuring Café du Nord’s legacy as a live music venue and one of San Francisco’s hippest places to take in dinner and a show. And while the vibe is that of an old school lounge, Schick say, “it’s a place where you want to put on a nice shirt not because there’s a dress code, but because you’ll probably run into someone you want to see you look good.”
Cheers to that.
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