Now, less than two weeks away from California fully reopening, the time has come when we may actually have to face heading back into the office. The plus side, though, is that some favorite lunch counters and happy hour bars may be able to finally reopen. Eater SF is happy to report that two cult-favorite downtown spots, which have been shuttered for more than a year, are finally prying off the boards: The Sentinel, that sandwich legend on a corner in SoMa, is bringing back the corned beef. And House of Shields, the 100-year-old bar next door, will be pouring classic cocktails once more.
Former fine-dining chef turned sandwich and bar pro Dennis Leary plans to “light the torch downtown” and officially reopen both this Thursday, June 3. He jokes that he is not sure if this is newsworthy, but fans of meaty sandwiches and old-school cocktails will surely disagree. “It’s about time — we might as well open. There’s fog on the mirror in terms of business, and my guys are ready to go in and feel productive,” he says. “It’s a bit of a calculated risk, but come June 15, if there’s a wave of euphoria, and people flood back downtown, which probably won’t happen, we’ll be ready.”
Both the restaurant and the bar have been closed since March 2020, a seemingly interminable 15 months for many in the industry. The Sentinel is known for its rotating menu of big sandwiches, most notably the corned beef with Swiss, slaw, and Russian dressing on grilled focaccia. Leary did consider having his own guys run delivery at one point, but he says he has no interest in partnering with parasitic delivery apps, preferring the simplicity of the walk-up. He says that after more than a year, the unplugged fridges failed, and it’s been a big project with deep cleaning and repairs. Still, he’s excited to reopen with a limited menu of sandwiches. One notable change is that chef Luis Contreras, who has been smiling behind the counter since opening, is now an official partner in the Sentinel.
House of Shields has been an institution since 1908, featuring all of the original floors, chandeliers, and other details, along with a classic cocktail list. House of Shields only serves drinks, so, like many bars, it's been restricted from reopening as quickly as restaurants. Leary says he’s considered putting food on the menu for years, even before the pandemic, since the Sentinel isn’t just next door — it actually used to be the cigar shop for the bar, and the two are connected by a pass.
Leary says they may add food later this summer, but for now, they plan to start with the usual drinks, with the same affable, longtime bartenders behind the bar. House of Shields has had a couple of break-in attempts, so they did need to repair the door and clear out the dust, but the old-school bar will not be bothering with a parklet. “We changed nothing at all,” Leary insists. “But it did feel good to shine it up.”
Leary says he’s “bullish” about workers returning downtown, and believes that as fears recede, people will want to see old colleagues and go on dates. He also owns Natoma Cabana, which quietly reopened this past week for indoor drinking, and Cafe Terminus, which has been open off and on for cocktail pickup and delivery. When the pandemic struck, Leary also had two new projects in the works, which are both still on hold: He hoped to open A Huevo, a new breakfast and lunch spot serving pastured eggs and chiles from his own farm in the Capay Valley. And he was also working on Henry Africa, a new bar and grill taking over the storied space of Eddie Rickenbacker’s.
All this to say: stay tuned for more sandwich and cocktail updates.