Your Bernalwood editor attended a glamorous preview dinner at Old Bus last night, but we’ll tell you more about that in a moment. First, let’s hear what the local fooderati are saying about this new addition to our neighborhood.
Writing for InsideScoop, here’s Sarah Fritsche:
The creation of partners and long-time friends, Jimmy Simpson, John Zirinsky and Bennett Buchanan, the unusually named brewpub Old Bus Tavern (named after Zirinsky’s 1978 Volkswagen Westfalia bus) is finally set to open its doors this Thursday (July 23).
Late last week, the trio were kind enough to give Inside Scoop a pre-opening peek at what to expect from the new Bernal Heights restaurant and brewery.
When you walk through the door, the first thing you notice is the gleaming, and open to the dining room, custom brewery made for the restaurant by Portland Kettleworks. Both Zirinsky and Buchanan, who began as avid home brewers eight years ago, will oversee the beer program. […]
Aside from the brew kettles, the other main focal point in the 49-seat dining room, which is designed by Sarah Greenwood Design (Greenwood also happens to be Zirinsky’s mother), is a collection of antique Navajo rugs that decorate the walls.
The rugs belong to Zirinsky’s uncle, who has been collecting Native American art and artifacts since the 1970s. “He’s had these rugs in storage for 25 years, so my mom had the idea, why don’t we ask Tom if we can take the rugs out of storage and put them up on the walls? It’s great to have a personal family connection, but also it just looks cool together,” says Zirinsky.
The Southwestern motif also carries over to the cocktails and food.
That’s a key thing to understand about Old Bus: They have a serious Southwestern thing going on, with an emphasis on the “serious.” But more about that in a moment, really, because headline of Thrillist’s story says the Old Bus “could be the best SF opening of the year”:
Located in Bernal Heights, this casual brewpub serves game changing drinks and eats in a cool, friendly atmosphere. Chef Max Snyder worked in four Michelin-starred restaurants before coming to Old Bus and offers way-elevated pub fare like pickled quail eggs served on a bed of fried onions. The beers are awesome, from the Old Bus Tavern Lemon Basil Saison to their OBT Chili Porter, which is brewed with Valrhona cocoa nibs and 60lbs of roasted Poblano chiles. Cocktails aren’t to be missed either…really, you should just order everything on the menu.
Okay, yeah, so a whole lot of people who don’t live in Bernal Heights say they are excited about this new place in Bernal Heights. But as a card-carrying Citizen of Bernalwood, with Old Bus Tavern at your doorstep, should you be excited about the place too?
Oh hell yes.
The team that created the Old Bus has worked incredibly hard to make it happen, and the results of their effort are impressive. During last night’s glamorous preview dinner, your Bernalwood editor remarked that the interior of the space is warm and interesting. It’s modern and refined, with an unmistakable southwestern vibe. In fact, that basically describes every aspect of The Old Bus Tavern: modern and refined, with an unmistakable southwestern vibe.
I did a robust exploration of a few signature cocktails, and they were terrific.
One clever standout was the OBT (with tequila, orange curaçao, lime, and a homemade poblano pepper syrup). It’s like a craft margarita with a spicy kick that lends itself to slow-paced sipping. Loved it.
The beer program is just getting up to speed, with an Old Bus Lemon Basil Saison on tap now. A homebrew Opening Day IPA and Chili Porter are expected to be ready later in the week. And all of it is made right onsite, in the kettles near the center of the dining room:
Otherwise, you can also get any of this:
The food was much more ambitious than I’d expected — divey cuisine, this is not. The pickled quail eggs with fried onions was sublime. The chilled eggplant soup tasted like something that came from Santa Fe by way of Cairo. The onion spaetzel was creative and fresh. The chili with pequin chiles was tender, rich, and intense:
Here’s the full menu. NOTE: Before snarking about the prices, please read the fine print: “Service and tax are included in all of our menu prices; no tipping is necessary. Our revenue sharing system allows us to pay our entire staff a living wage.”
Oh, and did I mention that it opens to the public tonight? As with any new restaurant, expect a few bumps at first, but Bernalwood recommends trying out the Old Bus Tavern sooner rather than later, because this place probably won’t be a local secret for very long.
Big congrats to the Old Bus Team, and welcome to the neighborhood.
PHOTOS: Telstar Logistics