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The Vault Garden The Vault Garden

The Vault Reopens as a Massive Outdoor Dining Garden

The clubby underground lair will become one of the city’s largest outdoor restaurants

The Vault opened only last year in the base of the Bank of America building, with all the trappings of a clubby underground lair: recessed lighting, leather banquettes and private liquor lockers. Now that San Francisco’s pandemic-era focus is on outdoor dining, it’s done an unexpected about-face into the fresh air, taking over the courtyard at California and Kearny, where that big live Christmas tree twinkles every year. They’re calling it the Vault Garden, and it promises to be one of the largest outdoor dining spaces the city has seen to date.

Unlike other restaurants that are rearranging existing patios and sidewalk seating, the Vault was able to design a totally fresh space. “We’re in a unique position,” says Ryan Cole, owner of the Hi Neighbor Hospitality Group. “We’re not repurposing a space that already existed, or having to make do. We built a new restaurant based on the current guidelines.”

The Vault’s dormant underground space
Patricia Chang
The Vault Garden’s new open air space
The Vault Garden

The courtyard is roughly a quarter of a city block, and the restaurant is rolling in 30 tables, which can seat up to a hundred people in total. Winding through the greenery, they promise tables are much more than six feet apart, giving diners plenty of breathing room. Cole acknowledges the wild card is the weather, with that wind that can whistle through the tall buildings of the FiDi. He encourages everyone to adjust dining expectations: “Imagine you got invited to a party, and it said garden attire. You might expect to be in a beautiful space, but wear flat shoes and layers, and limited options for bar and food.”

The Vault Garden The Vault Garden

The all-day menu does look a little different, now that servers will be running into the belly of the restaurant and back again, and drinks will be served from a stand outside. Chef Robin Song streamlined and strategized the dishes for more flexibility on temperature, with more cold items, including oysters, ceviche, caviar, and salads, as well as preparations that are equally delicious as they come to room temperature, like fried shishito peppers.

Still, it wouldn’t be the Vault without their Parker House rolls and its legendary, double-stacked burger. Cocktail pro Kaitlin Ryan is having fun with a fresh drinks menu, mostly named after famous world gardens. Well, except for the “get your wiggle on,” a margarita-style tequila drink which shakes off quarantine ennui with Thai chiles and cacao. (Check out the full menus below.)

Cocktail from the Vault Garden The Vault Garden

It’s an interesting moment in San Francisco, with restaurants reimagining spaces with more creativity than ever, and diners who might or might not feel comfortable venturing out. While the Vault is usually a power lunch and happy hour spot for bankers, the Vault Garden is hoping to become a destination on its own. For all those going stir-crazy from quarantine, it’s a very tempting offer to drive in from a neighborhoods. There’s still little to no traffic downtown, the restaurant will validate parking, and diners can feast on martinis and steak frites in the fresh air. Given the generous space and the thoughtful design, this might be just about as safe as it gets? Only time and testing will tell.

The Vault Garden opens this Thursday, June 18. Hours will be Tuesday to Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Reservations are recommended but not required.