A bar on par with Tokyo

Photograph of The Bar at Hotel Kabuki by Aubrie Pick

SALOONS | CHRIS BARNETT

In a city of grand, gilded, pricey hotels, the 225-room Hotel Kabuki at 1625 Post Street in Japantown is a serene temple of hospitality, owned by a powerhouse Wall Street investment fund that has quietly spent $32 million re-imagining the hotel.

The Kabuki’s low profile is about to change.

Wall Street’s muscular Blackstone Group emptied the vault on design and details in the long makeover. Blackstone doubled the lobby ceiling height to 19 feet, added 13,000 square feet of meeting space to entice business travelers and the conference crowd, and created outdoor Japanese gardens, ponds and a lounge. The rooms are roomy. A 3,000-square-foot lavishly equipped fitness center, which includes a 400-square-foot yoga studio, is exclusively for guests and without charge.

Drinks in the spacious, just-opened bar and lobby lounge have the same creativity and Japanese authenticity in the glass — and are on a libational par — with what’s poured in Tokyo’s most stylish and priciest watering holes.

Five unusual combinations of spirits and sodas are offered during a weekday
4 to 6 p.m. happy hour at $7, almost half the normal $13 tariff. The Nikka G&T is a refreshing twist on the English classic cooler, using imported Japan-distilled Nikka Coffey gin and Suze, a Japanese take on a French fruit liqueur and dandelion tonic. The Natsu Soda mixes vodka, sake and a watermelon flavor. Madame Chou mates tequila with pea flower tea. Imaginative tea and “luxury” cocktails, a sheet of sakes and some 20 Japanese whiskeys float above the $20 range. Plus, there’s a list of beguiling bar bites.

A destination restaurant is in the works, being created by what’s said to be a big name San Francisco chef.

VIVA VIVANDE!

Photograph of Carlo Middione at Vivande by Daniel Bahmani

By CHRISTOPHER BRUNO

“Smell this!”

Carlo Middione said, as he thrust two handfuls of fresh, limp, uncooked spinach fettucine in my face.

I was the newest hire in the spring of 1985 at his gastronomical time machine, Vivande Porte Via, which masqueraded as a restaurant on Fillmore Street. I inhaled deeply and was shocked at the sweet, earthy smell of the uncooked strands. “It smells like…” Dare I say it? Am I crazy? Was this a test? “It smells like…” I looked at Carlo, unable to speak — and he burst out laughing.

He smiled at me with his bristling salt and peppered cheeks. It smelled like that vital life force, that injection of sweetly salted humanity from which all humanity is spun, betraying the true nature of my new place of employment: Vivande comes from the Latin vita, meaning life.

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‘A grocery, not Shake Shack’

The now-shuttered space at 3060 Fillmore and Filbert was formerly home of Real Food Co.

A BIG CROWD of neighbors showed up on January 24 to preview plans to bring a Shake Shack burger joint to the former corner home of Real Food Co. at Fillmore and Filbert. But most said they prefer another grocery store in that location.

None of the neighbors seemed to have a good word for Shake Shack, the hot burger chain headed by New York restaurateur Danny Meyer that is drawing long lines of fans to many of its 160-plus locations. Shake Shack is expanding into Palo Alto and Marin, and is looking for a San Francisco location.

Rumble Fitness, a boxing gym, would share the space.

Despite the demand, no one suggested there is much hope for a grocery store in the former corner garage, built in 1915, which is small and has limited parking. Neighbors got excited when Bi-Rite Market was rumored to be mulling a store there — incorrectly, as it turned out. The property owners say they have been able to find no other grocers who are interested, either.

“This is not what the Cow Hollow-Marina neighborhood needs,” resident Emily Scott said of the Shake Shack-Rumble combo, circulating a list of a dozen nearby places serving burgers and nearly three dozen fitness options. “What we do need is a grocery store,” Scott said.

More Yoshi’s fallout: Black Bark is moving

Black Bark owners Monetta White and David Lawrence

THE CITY’S DITHERING over the future of the Fillmore Heritage Center has claimed another casualty: Black Bark, the modern barbecue joint at 1325 Fillmore, did not reopen after a holiday break.

Only weeks after ending regular dinner service across the street at their upscale 1300 on Fillmore restaurant, owners Monetta White and David Lawrence decided to remain closed as they continue negotiations to move Black Bark to another location “on the other end of Fillmore,” White said, gesturing toward the Marina but refusing to be specific until a lease is signed.

White and Lawrence have already begun moving their equipment and say they hope to reopen in the spring.

White said the food, the concept, the graphics and the furnishings will all remain the same. Since it opened two years ago, much of Black Bark’s thriving takeout business has come through delivery services, and they are preparing to launch a line of sauces and other products.

But they want more foot traffic, and that may take years on a block where the entire east side is occupied by massive empty spaces that for a few years housed Yoshi’s restaurant and jazz club, plus a gallery and screening room.

In November the city threw out the bids from five potential buyers and said the process of finding a future for the heritage center will begin all over again.

A clubhouse for millenials

The Snug opened November 29 at the corner of Fillmore and Clay.

The Snug opened November 29 at the corner of Fillmore and Clay.

SALOONS | CHRIS BARNETT

The Snug conjures up a cozy corner in a centuries-old smoky pub where big-bellied Brits and tweedy types quaff suds, trade insults and argue politics The new Snug, at 2301 Fillmore, is the polar opposite — a sleek, fun, split-level cocktail bar with friendly skilled staffers mixing, pouring and serving classic and creative libations at reasonable prices.

In a stylish makeover of the former Mehfil Indian restaurant, the centerpiece here is a 31-foot-long bar fashioned of the trunk of a single Douglas fir. The barstools spin. There’s plenty of table seating for a couple, a foursome or a crowd. Mercifully, there’s not a single blaring TV on the premises. To justify its name, the owners have a carved out a small snug that seats four, but frankly it looks a little uncomfortable.

The Snug has more than a dozen craft beers and ciders on tap, five wines by the glass and six or seven house cocktails ranging from a White Lily #2 — gin, rum, orange liqueur, absinthe and curry leaf — to a timeless Old Fashioned, with bourbon, bitters and sugar. A tall wall of every spirit imaginable overlooks the airy space. There’s no happy hour.

The kitchen puts out snacks and a few inventive small and large plates. A burger and a $16 Cobb salad top the list. Brunch is coming soon.

The long wait at the Fillmore Heritage Center

Opening night in November 2017 of the Fillmore Heritage Center, now empty for three years.

Opening night in November 2007 at the Fillmore Heritage Center, now empty for three years.

UPDATE: The wait will go on. City Hall has punted, announcing on November 3 that no decision will be made yet on what to do with the Fillmore Heritage Center. All five bids for the complex were rejected, and the process will start all over again.

JUST IN TIME, 1300 TAKES A TIME OUT

THEIR DECISION could have been made anytime since July 1, 2014, when Yoshi’s pulled out next door. But the owners of 1300 on Fillmore restaurant hung on, committed to the resurgence they helped spark.

They even doubled down and opened a barbecue joint across the street.

Finally on October 19 came the word: 1300 would close. Final call was on October 25, a closing party that former mayor Willie Brown called “a classic — more like the dance palace of the Fillmore of yesteryear.”

Owners Monetta White and David Lawrence insisted they are just taking a break — a “hiatus,” White called it — from trying to keep an upscale restaurant open on a lonely corner. Business has gotten slower and slower during the three years since Yoshi’s jazz club and restaurant called it quits, and city leaders have dragged out a decision about what to do with the space.

“Something had to be done,” White said. “We hope to revamp, revise and relaunch in 2018.”

David Lawrence and Monetta White greet diners at 1300 on Fillmore soon after it opened.

David Lawrence and Monetta White greet diners at 1300 on Fillmore soon after it opened.

In the meantime, Black Bark BBQ will continue and they will rent out 1300 and its Fillmore heritage lounge for pop-ups and private events.

“It’s a short-term decision for a long-term stay — hopefully,” White said.

Like nearly everyone else associated with the Fillmore Heritage Center — which houses 1300, the massive Yoshi’s restaurant and showroom, an art gallery, a screening room and a public parking garage — White expressed frustration with the city’s delay in finding a buyer for the complex. The project defaulted to the city when the developer went bust.

“Why is it taking them so long to deal with this building?” lamented White. “Who is in charge over there? They told me to hold for one year… it’s been three!”

Willie Brown spoke for many fans of 1300: “Thanks for the memories. Bring it back soon.”

Harry’s may take over Thai Stick

The Thai Stick at Fillmore and Pine.

The Thai Stick at Fillmore and Pine.

UPDATE: The much buzzed about bid by the two owners of Harry’s Bar to take over the Thai Stick has collapsed. Rick Howard and George Karas reportedly pulled out of the deal, with no reasons given. The bar stays open, but food service has been cut back somewhat while Thai Stick owner Paul Polemasuppapol looks for new buyers.

SALOONS | CHRIS BARNETT

Three bar-restaurants with well over 100 years of experience in mixing, pouring, cooking and serving on Fillmore Street are shaking things up in the 2000 block between California and Pine.

• Harry’s Bar, now in its 31st year, is negotiating to over the Thai Stick, which has been in operation for 21 years at the corner of Fillmore and Pine.

• Harry’s will also remain in its longtime location at 2020 Fillmore. For a few weeks, Harry’s outsourced its kitchen to an independent chef, who revamped the menu and upped the prices. That arrangement has now ended. A remodeling is also in the works.

• Across the street at 2043 Fillmore, the Elite Cafe is quietly tiptoeing back to some of its more familiar roots since its black-and-gray hipster makeover last year — and finally repairing its fire-damaged classic neon sign.

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A gathering place in Japantown

Photo illustration of Benkyodo by Frank Wing

Photo illustration of Benkyodo by Frank Wing

BENKYODO, with its colorful counter and corner tables, for a century has been a gathering place in Japantown for local business people, tourists and generations of Japanese Americans who love mochi and manju.

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Toasting an eventful first year

Tim Schuyler Hayman (center) welcomes guests to Scopo Divino.

Tim Schuyler Hayman (center) welcomes guests to Scopo Divino.

By FAITH WHEELER

Some may mistake it for a hole in the wall, tucked away near the bustling corner of California and Divisadero, but to those in the know, the Scopo Divino wine bar has become a neighborhood institution during its first year in business. And the food has turned out to be just as important as the wine — surprising even owner Tim Schuyler Hayman.

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Farmers market gets a new boss

Grant Ike is the new manager of the market — the fourth in the past two years.

Grant Ike is the new manager of the market — its fourth in the past two years.

By FRANCINE BREVETTI

February’s raucous rains may have limited the ingredients you’ve tossed into your summer salad bowl.

The Fillmore Farmers Market is still trying to recoup the fruit and vegetable vendors it lost because of the rising waters on farmland this past winter.

To help lead the resurgence, Grant Ike has been named as the new manager of the market — the fourth since popular founding manager Tom Nichol was removed and later died in 2015.

“I’ve got some big shoes to fill — but I wear a size 14,” says Ike, himself a former nut vendor at other markets.

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