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Meet Persona, Downtown SF’s New Subterranean Party Hideout Inspired by Erotic Cinema

The moody new cocktail bar in Lower Nob Hill is from three SF bar industry veterans


If the world’s burning, you may as well be in a subterranean party hideout having outrageous cocktails when it goes down in flames, right?

That’s what a trio of bar owners are hoping, at least, with their new Lower Nob Hill bar, Persona, located at 685 Sutter Street. It’s the rebranding of the Cellar, an underground bar that mostly peddled in bottle service, private parties, and DJs. The space has been reborn into a moody, theatrical space with dark textures and metallic accents; a design inspired by the erotic cinemas that lined Sutter Street in the 1960s and 1970s, partner Juan Loredo tells Eater.

Loredo and Jose Natividad, who also co-own BarrelHouse and Vinyl Room in Burlingame, partnered with Matador owner Keith Goodman on Persona, with Craige Walters on design. Walters and the team consulted on a few different design vibes before settling on the erotic cinema hook, Loredo says. “SF was at the forefront of erotic cinema in the ‘60s and ‘70s; it hosted the first erotic film festival in the world. That’s how we came up with the name — here, you can come downstairs and take on a new persona.”

Nikki Ritcher/Persona

The bar opened at the end of July with a cocktail menu crafted by Oscar Sinisterra, an alum of high-end cocktail spots like Cold Drinks and Hello Stranger. It’s below Matador, the restaurant Goodman owns. The design is what ultimately brought the partners together — Goodman was working with Walters, and needed an operator, Walters thought of Loredo and Natividad, and it all came together. Loredo and Natividad were especially excited that the space lent itself to creative, even gimmicky elements — conversation starters. “In Burlingame, it’s more of a suburban market. We’ve tried to do a lot of creative stuff and people just didn’t care really about it. Here we felt like we could have more fun with it.”

That playfulness can be seen in design elements like rough, textured walls and neon accents, and in the drinks, with cocktails that involve the use of force carbonation or dry ice. The partners are working out the food, and plan to add a good number of draft cocktails in hopes of becoming an after-work spot — when workers return, that is — a milestone that seems further off every day.

Responding to the news that San Francisco is officially mandating proof of vaccination for indoor dining and drinking, Loredo says, “Nothing surprises me anymore. Everyone’s exhausted, everyone’s been through a lot. We just roll with the punches, and understand there’s a lot of stuff we just can’t control.”

To that point, “We hope people can let go here,” says Loredo. “I mean, who couldn’t use that right now?”

Persona is open at 685 Sutter Street Tuesday through Saturday, from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., with plans to open daily soon.

Nikki Ritcher/Persona