Noe Valley Voice December 2012

New Spirits Spice Up Noe’s Nightlife

Cocktails, Anyone?

By Corrie M. Anders

New owners have spiffed up O’Greenberg’s at Dolores and 29th, and added more beer and wine choices. They’ve also renamed the bar Dolores Corner.    Photo by Corrie M. Anders 


Noe Valley has long had its friendly dives and mom-and-pop liquor stores. But there is a bit more flair and sophistication these days for those looking for a taste of the good life.

This month alone, you can spot two new trends in the bar scene. One is the arrival of a “gastropub,” a drinking establishment where patrons can dine on artisanal foods designed to complement their beer or wine. Then there is Noe Valley’s first cocktail-tasting party, the joint production of an already popular bar and a wine shop.

Livening the mix is a second (or maybe third) wave of young professionals settling in the neighborhood, and a changing of the guard among longtime bar and cafe owners.

In the past year, the alcohol licenses of at least four businesses have changed hands. The new owners are adding fresh personality to a landscape that already embraces live music, WiFi happy hours, digital jukeboxes playing hundreds of thousands of songs, and walls of wide-screen TVs catering to sports fans.

“It’s gotten a bit more lively than before,” says Leslie Kim, 32, who enjoys a closeup view of Noe Valley’s nightlife. There are five bars—each with its own distinct vibe—within walking distance of her loft apartment on 24th Street.

The crowds are younger too, unlike nine years ago when she moved to Noe Valley and felt like she was outside her demographic. “Now there are more young people in my age bracket,” says Kim, a fitness and wellness coach.

John Dampeer and Adnan Daken started the latest buzz in October when they purchased Joe’s 24th Street Café at 3853 24th St. near Vicksburg. The partners are busy converting the cafe into a bar and bistro named Crafthouse,* which they expect to open in December.

The Crafthouse specialty will be gourmet beers on tap, many from small craft breweries on the West Coast. The bar’s menu will feature foods that pair well with the beers, such as pork loin sandwiches, burgers, and fig and goat cheese paninis. Patrons can also choose from a half dozen bottled beers.

Dampeer is new to the business. But the Crafthouse concept is similar to that of Internos, a wine bar and café in the Richmond District that Daken co-owns.

Crafthouse also plans to serve wine. The competition doesn’t perturb James Mead, who owns Noe Valley Wine Merchants a few steps away at 3821 24th St. near Church Street.

“I’m happy as hell,” Mead says about the advent of Crafthouse. “More traffic on the street helps everyone.” 

Mead opened his shop (in the former Urban Cellars) in March. Wine lovers, he says, began showing up soon after the store began holding tastings of vintages from “every major wine-growing area in the world”—Italy, Greece, and France, of course, and a few not so famous regions in Slovenia and Croatia.

The $10 wine tastings occur two to three times a month, generally in the evenings. (Last month, Mead uncorked a 1999 C.H. Berres †rziger Wźrzgarten SpŠtlese Riesling, which costs $17.98 a bottle, and a 2011 Santa Lucia Highlands Luli Pinot Noir at $18.99.

Mead says he expected from the outset that wine-tasting would be a hit in Noe Valley, as it is elsewhere. His “biggest surprise” has been the popularity of artisan spirits like single-barrel bourbons and fine-quality ryes and gins used to create exotic cocktails. “It’s really been a bigger part of the business than I anticipated.”


With or Without Olives?

It’s a trend that PlumpJack Wine & Spirits at 4011 24th St. also has noticed. The wine retailer has teamed up with Bliss Bar to launch a series of cocktail-tasting parties. The first one is set for Dec. 5 at the nightclub, located across the street at 4026 24th.

“It just seems like the right idea and the right fit,” says PlumpJack manager Joshua Thinnes, 26. “The younger crowd in my generation that is flocking to Noe Valley…has certainly helped increase the demand for spirits.”

PlumpJack, which already hosts both a champagne and a wine membership club, claims its new cocktail club is a first for San Francisco. The inaugural tasting will include two offerings: a St. Germain liqueur crafted from elderberry flowers and a spicy gin made from a mix of juniper berries and other plants.

In the future, “we’ll do tastings every other month,” says Thinnes. The events are free to cocktail club members and $10 for guests.

Bliss, which has presented jazz groups on Sunday afternoons for several years, last September started offering soul, pop, blues, and other live music on select days during the week.

With deejays also spinning dance music and a monthly live comedy act, the lounge draws a mixed crowd of Asians, Latinos, and whites, says Bliss owner Pierre Letheule.

There’s a Draft in Here

The Valley Tavern, a classic sports bar at 4054 24th St., has one of the largest beer inventories in the neighborhood.

“We carry 40 different draft beers [and] about 16 bottle beers as well,” says owner Vince Hogan. The watering hole, which also boasts 20 huge video screens, is especially alluring during football season.

“We show every game in the country on Sundays,” says Hogan. “We have people from all over the country who come here to watch their individuals games” and snack on free barbecue.

Trivia Night on Tuesdays, a chance for folks to show off their intelligence, also plays to a packed house. And the free WiFi draws an afternoon crowd of those who are married to their laptops. Hogan operated a second bar, the Dubliner, for two decades until he sold it last fall. Like the Valley Tavern, the bar has a sports vibe and is a great hook-up venue for 20- and 30-something men and women.

Dubliner manager Ken Yeung, 32, says he didn’t want to make any major changes after his family took over the saloon at 3838 24th St.

“I’ve always thought it was a great local bar and I didn’t want to change the dynamics,” says Yeung, adding that the bar has a “friendly atmosphere like a Cheers bar.”

Instead, he replaced a number of smaller, older TVs with flat screens, boosted the number of top-shelf liquors to go along with the 25 beers on tap, and introduced a daily midnight-to-closing happy hour to complement the regular 4 to 7 p.m. weekday slot for discounted drinks.

Ironically, Yeung says he knew very little about Noe Valley until he started his pre-purchase research. The Sunset District resident says he walked up and down 24th Street and talked to merchants, passersby, and patrons in bars.

“Tell you what, it’s a great neighborhood. All the feedback I got was that this is the nicest, cleanest, most trouble-free neighborhood in the whole city.”


The Bar on the Corner

It was a given that partners Ray Siri, Joe Ascara, and Belinda Kerr needed to spruce up the low-key bar they purchased in October. O’Greenberg’s, an old-school neighborhood pub located on the southern outskirts of Noe Valley at Dolores and 29th streets, had seen better days.

“When we walked in here, the only two beers were Corona and Corona Light,” Siri says about the bar, which the partners have renamed Dolores Corner. “You couldn’t even get a Bud Light in this place.”

Today, there are eight bottled beers, 15 brews on tap, and a wine selection that has expanded from six to eight. The partners also modernized the bathroom, put in a new digital jukebox, and installed a more efficient sound system. Their work-in-progress includes replacing tired bar stools and the indoor-outdoor carpet in the pool table and dartboard areas and lightening up the dark setting with newly painted white ceilings. They also are offering WiFi and free cold cuts during sports events.

“It’s not that we’re going upscale or dramatically changing anything,” says Siri. “What we’re looking to do is become a neighborhood meeting spot” that will continue to attract a 30-ish to middle-aged crowd of locals.

The bar’s new moniker may seem somewhat tame after “O’Greenberg’s,” a conjunction that acknowledged the previous owner’s Jewish heritage and the Irish makeup of the neighborhood when the bar opened in 1976.

Siri says the new owners kicked around a variety of names, including Paladin, defined as a protector or champion of good causes not unlike Kerr’s former role as a San Francisco police officer.

In the end, though, Siri says the group decided on practicality. The bar is located on Dolores—the only tavern along the entire two-mile stretch of the historic street—and it’s on a corner.

The bar’s logo—coming any day now—will reside at the entrance just under the American, Italian, and Scottish national flags.

*Owner John Dampeer informed us after press time that the name has been changed to Caskhouse.