About eight years ago, Daniel Azarkman had a late-night thought experiment that would turn into the idea behind El Lopo, his Spanish-inspired wine bar opening on Polk Street later this week.
“What would California cuisine look like if California had remained a Spanish colony, and stemming from that, what would California’s eating culture look like?” Azarkman says. Would there be more bars that capture the relaxing spirit and tasty small plates of Spain? Would the flavors feel Spanish but spotlight Californian ingredients?
Azarkman started El Lopo as a regular pop-up inside fellow Polk Street bar Blur. It ran for about four months, until Azarkman secured the former Pour House space at 1327 Polk Street. He’s deep in renovations and plans to open El Lopo on Friday, February 1 with limited offerings for the first month.
The 1,000-square-foot, narrow space will be dominated by a long, 18-seat bar with an open kitchen right behind it. “Our bartenders will have some hands on food and our cooks will be pouring drinks occasionally,” Azarkman says. “That’s a major part of the look of the space, seeing food being prepared and produce out on the counters.”
It’ll have a lived-in, rustic-urban feel with “just enough light to not be depressing, but it is still a bar so I want a certain sinister quality,” he says.
The bar menu will be heavy on sherry and vermouth. As for wine, El Lopo will only pour wines from Spain or California — “we’re targeting California wine either made in a Spanish style or using Spanish grapes, and in some cases the inverse of that: wines produced in Spain with clear American influences or made in Spain for American audiences.”
Some of those wines will be served in a porron, “a Spanish wine bong,” as Azarkman describes. In Spain, it’s typically poured directly into a person’s mouth instead of a glass, but El Lopo will offer glasses if that doesn’t appeal. Basque and Californian ciders and some low-proof cocktails will also be available.
Once El Lopo is fully operational, it’ll serve the same staples from its pop-up days: an empanada, chicken wings, and a tortilla — the latter is an interesting cross between Spanish tortilla, as it’s made of egg and potato, and a Mexican tortilla, as it’s thin and piled up with fillings like a taco. Across the board, the fillings, sauces, and toppings will rotate seasonally. The kitchen isn’t quite ready, though, so for its first month in business, El Lopo will only serve simple, room temperature items like canned fish and charcuterie.
“I think in a way, we definitely stray from proper Spanish preparations but in a way I consider it authentic to Spanish cuisine in that Spanish food itself is so rooted in ingredients. I think when Spanish restaurants in the U.S. try to recreate Spanish dishes note for note, they stumble because they don’t have the same ingredients,” Azarkman says. “By being okay with that and shifting the focus to the ingredients that are here, in some ways we achieve a better homage to what’s great about Spanish food.”
El Lopo will be open from 4 p.m. to midnight daily. The full menu will be available in about a month, served from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
- El Lopo, a Cal-Spanish Wine Bar with Bar Snacks, Opening on Polk Street [Tablehopper]
- El Lopo [Official]