Traci Des Jardins’ new bar, School Night, is bringing a lighthearted and lowkey drinking destination to Dogpatch this Sunday. And with its menu of Mexican and Peruvian snacks and larger plates for sharing, plus a menu of whiskey, agave, and pisco cocktails, it stands out amongst its peers already. It stands out for another reason, too: It’s only open Sunday through Wednesday, on “school nights.”
The project is a collaboration between Des Jardins and Adam Mendelson, a co-founder of the Pearl, the event space in which School Nights is embedded. The bar has its own separate entrance, but is connected to the adjacent space that holds events like the Golden Gate Restaurant Association’s Taco Knockdown, and parties for companies like HBO, making it eligible to operate under the same liquor license — just one of the savvy moves that make School Night’s business model a viable one.
Mendelson says he’d been looking to open a bar in the space for awhile, but waiting for the right person to partner with. When the connection with Des Jardins was made, the idea began to take shape. The space itself was already built out, it just needed to fit the group’s concept. Pearl partner Alexis Laurent designed art for the 87-seat room (his work is also displayed throughout the event space portion of the Pearl), with use of heavy-duty materials like zinc, concrete, and steel, as a reflection of the Dogpatch’s industrial roots.
Bar manager Enrique Sanchez is the spiritual leader of the bar program at Arguello, says Des Jardins, so including him on this project was a natural fit. His focus on pisco is a nod to his Peruvian roots, while whiskey is a tribute to his adopted country — meanwhile, he and Des Jardins just love agave spirits. The menu reflects that as well, incorporating cebiche, and other dishes like anticuchos and costillas. (Check out the menu here.)
“Price points are rising to match rising costs,” says Mendelson. “Rent, labor, products, insurance, and all the rest. Margins are razor thin, if they exist at all. How do we create something that can be more sustainable?”
Using the event space’s “ecosystem” is one way to do that: On nights that the bar is not open to the public, it is available to rent for private parties. Renters can choose to bring their own caterers in, or go with School Night’s own menu, keeping it easy to plan and very flexible.
And because of its position within the Pearl’s world, School Night is able to go to market with lower prices, says Mendelson. “Being part of this ecosystem and not the only revenue engine is paramount.”
That means all cocktails are $12, a win in a city where cocktail prices are surging nearer to $20 dollars across the board. The most expensive dish on the menu is the quail — achiote marinated Wolfe Ranch quail breast, and a fried leg, with onion escabeche — at $23.
Another silver lining to keeping such unconventional hours: Staffing has been easier. Many front- and back-of-the-house workers are focused on busy weekend days, but have fewer shifts and more availability during the week. Mendelson says it’s been easier to attract talented industry people to join the team for that reason.
“For me personally, I think one of the things that needs to happen in the next ten years is to figure out [restaurant] models that work better,” says Des Jardins. “There is going to have to be a shift.”
“Eventually diners will realize their choices might be limited by the financial repercussions of operating restaurants in this city,” says Des Jardins. “Something is going to give, whether its fewer restaurants, charging more, or some new model.”
The partners hope that their multi-use model is successful enough to expand in the future. For now, stop by School Night starting April 29 for cocktails and food from 5 p.m.- midnight, Sunday through Wednesday; it will serve as a private event space Thursday through Saturday.