Dalva cocktail bar is one of those Valencia drinking institutions that somewhat defies description. It’s not quite a dive but it’s rough around the edges. It pours standard drinks in the front but there are craft cocktails shaking in the back. Given that it’s dark and airless and definitely doesn’t have a kitchen, drinkers may have been sad but not surprised that it stayed closed for the entire pandemic, never attempting takeout cocktails with the required food pairings. But in the immortal words of ‘90s contemporary LL Cool J, don’t call it a comeback: Dalva will reopen with a new partner, a “complete gut job” including fresh bathrooms, and stronger drinks across the entire bar — not just hidden in the Hideout bar-within-a-bar in the back.
Dalva first opened in 1993 as a modern family affair with an ex-husband who’s no longer involved, but Erik Reichborn-Kjennerud is now our lead character and operating partner. Dalva isn’t a deep dive with the decades-old aroma of the Phone Booth or 500 Club, but it was a favorite and affordable neighborhood bar of the millennium, known for $2 margaritas during happy hour, worth grabbing before or after catching a flick at the Roxie. It started pulling in a slightly more cocktail-savvy crowd in 2007 when it opened the Hideout. While Dalva served well drinks up front, the Hideout served craft cocktails in a small room in the back — and many big bar names have swung through these storied doors: Josh Harris of Trick Dog, Nicolas Torres of True Laurel, and Claire Sprouse of the upcoming Buddy all mixed the drinks at some point.
Reichborn-Kjennerud is also a partner in the also excellent ABV and says he was busy keeping that bar afloat during the pandemic. Now, he’s turning his attention back to Dalva and new partner Eric Ochoa, who’s been busy finding a new home for his wildly popular bar Elda, has officially signed on and stepped in to help take Dalva into a new decade. The two have been discussing this reopening for months as the pandemic gave them an opportunity to step back. While both Erik and Eric acknowledge that, of course, some longtime regulars will be disappointed by any change, the reality is Dalva was overdue for a refresh. “It’s going to be way less divey,” Reichborn-Kjennerud says. “There will always be some people who reminisce, but Dalva needs to be fixed. It was old when we got it. We have to make some improvements.”
They’re keeping the name and the layout will stay the same, but the entire bar is getting replaced, the floor behind the bar needs to be fixed, and the bathrooms will actually “look nice,” Reichborn-Kjennerud says. The same woodworker who crafted Elda is fixing the floors; Color Atelier in the Mission is repainting the walls. The Art Deco mahogany back bar with fluted woodwork will stay, but tables, chairs, and all other furniture is coming in custom and new. The hope is to pull in fresh light and air while retaining that warm neighborhood bar character. “Listen, I think dives are great, but I don’t want to work in one,” Reichborn-Kjennerud concedes. “It’s a complete remodel and gut job,” Ochoa confirms.
Reichborn-Kjennerud has done plenty of bartending himself over the years, although he prefers to manage the front these days, and with Ochoa stepping in from Elda, rest assured, the cocktail list is going to get stronger. Dalva will now serve craft cocktails across the entire bar (yes — that means one menu). That menu is still under development, but we’re talking well-executed drinks with house syrups and bitters, and, true to the establishment, not too many frills or garnishes. The beer taps are moving from the front to the back, and they’re dropping from 15 to 10 taps of local microbrews. Additions include natural wine and vermouth. There’s still no kitchen, but there are snacks to come: think Mission local tortilla chips and perhaps fancy peanuts. Dalva will reopen first this fall, with the Hideout following after and a parklet potentially at a later date. Stay tuned for fresh updates.