School Night Experiments with a Dual-Purpose Space in Dogpatch

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Last spring a bar opened in Dogpatch offering unconventional hours to San Franciscans. School Night, located at 601 19th Street, is named for its Sunday through Wednesday night schedule, a unique approach to carving out a niche in the City’s competitive restaurant and bar scene. The saloon occupies the same space as The Pearl, a rentable event venue available Thursday through Saturday nights that’s utilized for birthday parties, off-site corporate events, wedding rehearsal dinners, charity occasions, and after-parties.  According to Adam Mendelson, managing partner for both establishments, the intention is to make School Night and The Pearl mutually supportive financially.

Mendelson opened The Pearl in 2016. After getting better acquainted with the neighborhood, he decided to create something that’d cater to the growing community. He started School Night in collaboration with chef and restauranteur, Traci Des Jardins, and bartender, Enrique Sanchez.

“We have an incredible bar team that enjoys what they do without taking it, or themselves, too seriously,” Mendelson commented.  “We offer a premium experience in a casual atmosphere. We are the only bar in the City with a food program that plays second fiddle to a bar program; both of which are top notch and at price points that are otherwise unimaginable in San Francisco’s current pricing landscape.”

School Night’s menu features an array of cocktails, an ample list of agave and other spirits, beer, wine and slim but potentially filling food offerings. The Principal’s Punch, a pisco cocktail handcrafted by Sanchez, priced at $12, is made with pisco italia, pineapple, falernum, lemon and genepy.

“San Francisco and Peru had a lot of relations during the California Gold Rush,” explains Sanchez on the bill of fare. “Many people that were coming to San Francisco stopped in Peru on their journey. They were out of booze at that point and restocked with Pisco. Pisco Italia was the first Pisco in San Francisco and the first Pisco cocktail was a Pisco Punch. The gentleman that created the Pisco Punch died without sharing the recipe and the only ingredients we know for sure are Pisco, some type of citrus, and some type of pineapple. There are rumors of many ingredients to be in the original, even including Cocaine! This is my take on the classic SF Pisco Punch.”

Also offered for $12 is Spring Break, made with mezcal, hibiscus, pineapple gum, lime and soda. The food menu features such staples as chips and salsa, salads and tacos. Less usual items include the Anticuchos, made with skewered Liberty Farms duck hearts and gizzards for $13; and the Wolfe Ranch Quail, which consists of achiote-marinated quail breast, fried leg and onion escabeche for $23, the priciest menu item.

One of School Night’s best sellers for guests desiring light fare is the Albondigas, which features crisped Impossible Meatballs served on a bed of tomatillo salsa and cilantro with a peppery, almost smoky flavor. The meatballs sell for $3 each and are meat-free, plant-based. Although Impossible Meatballs have been a hit with the School Night crowd it’s unclear whether its burger cousin, also made by Impossible Foods, will make it to the menu. According to a School Night bartender, the meatballs became a bill of fare item in part because Traci Des Jardins had a relationship with Impossible Foods. Des Jardins owns Jardinière, a Hayes Valley restaurant which was one of the first establishments to carry the Impossible Burger.

According to Mendelson, it hasn’tbeen hard to attract bar-goers to School Night. He said since opening in April, every evening has been better than the previous one, which he attributes to being a great “local” bar with incredible food and drinks. Mendelson sees many repeat Dogpatch residents, as well as people venturing from farther neighborhoods to check out the scene. There are no themed or special nights; since the space is equipped with a projector and screen, Mondays could become “old movies night” in the future.

Prior to the bar’s opening, Mendelson and his business partners noticed that the traditional business model for San Francisco restaurants and saloons, with a space dedicated to an eatery or bar and heavy traffic during half the week, slow or closed the rest of the time, has become less viable in the face of high rents, fierce competition and the challenges of retaining a skilled staff, resulting in scant or no profit margins for many bistros and watering holes. Mendelson and his colleagues wanted to shake things up, and saw that 601 19th Street functions well as both a tavern and event space.

“My dream is for School Night to be a local, comfortable destination as the neighborhood evolves,” Mendelson said. “I want it to become something timeless that’s an integral part of the neighborhood.”