When Jon Santer (Prizefighter) and Thad Vogler (Bar Agricole, Trou Normand, Obispo) opened the heavy glass doors to Nommo, a joint project they’d been working on for two years, the new bar and restaurant caught many onlookers by surprise. That’s because, in a world of faux-speakeasies and closely-watched anticipated openings, Santer and Vogler had done the unthinkable: They’d actually kept a secret.
Now the secret’s out. Nommo is wide open to customers at 396 Harrison on the ground floor of a brand-new high-rise in San Francisco’s sky-scraping Rincon Hill neighborhood. Wylie Price (Ramen Shop, The Progress, Obispo) designed the airy, 3,800 square-foot space, with seating for 100 spread across lots of group tables.
“I want [Nommo] to be a social place,” says Santer, who met Vogler at Bourbon & Branch, the groundbreaking SF bar he helped open in 2006. “We want you to come in, have some drinks, some charcuterie, and hang out.”
“We’d always wanted to do something together,” says Vogler, who just opened his third bar, Obispo, in the Mission.
Named for an amphibious ancestral spirit worshipped in Mali, Nommo has a menu that appropriately spans land and sea. Salumi, seafood like oysters and shrimp cocktails, burgers, and boudin blanc sausages all come from Evan Blackburn, the Agricole group’s in-house butcher at their Jack London Square commissary. Nommo’s full menu also includes cheese plates, little gem and chicory caesar salads, and desserts.
In the bartending world, Vogler and Santer are destination-worthy names. But their main ambition with Nommo was to create a neighborhood staple in an area whose culture is still in its tadpole stage. Like their new bar, Rincon Hill and its shimmering residential buildings might appear to have sprung, fully-formed, as if overnight.
Originally, that was a concern for Vogler — but he thinks it can work. “In Japan, you’ll be in this ultramodern neighborhood, and you’ll go into a building that’s just five years old, and be in a soulful, compelling interior. And we thought it could be worth trying to do something cool like that.”
It’s a goal particularly in keeping with Santer’s Emeryville bar, Prizefighter, which is celebrated for its laid-back approach to cocktails.
“Drinking should be fun, right?” says Santer. “If it’s not, maybe your’e not doing something right.”
At Nommo, Santer’s cocktail list is a tight nine drinks featuring a range of spirits. Classics and variations (all $14) include a Brooklynite (rum, lime, honey, bitters) and a Mamie Taylor (scotch, ginger, lime, bitters, and very bubbly soda water straight from a Toki highball machine).
While they’re uncomplicated to customers, behind the bar, the cocktails needed lots of tinkering. That’s because everything at Nommo starts ice-cold in freezers underneath the bar: All glassware is pre-loaded with pristine Clinebell machine ice. The system is highly efficient, but rather than cooling down drinks as usual, Nommo’s bartenders are actually warming them up.
“Everything had to change,” says Santer, who needed to adjust recipes and techniques to account for differences in dilution. “The environment is upside down.”
From the drinks to the neighborhood, it’s decidedly new, but built around familiar comforts, too. Pre-1985 R&B, rock, and soul records play all the way through, there’s a magazine rack and a hidden TV in one nook of the dining room, and outside, from Harrison Street, are stunning views of the Bay Bridge.
Nommo is now open at 396 Harrison Street from 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. Monday to Saturday