International travel may be off the table for some time (what with the ongoing pandemic and all), but San Francisco is welcoming a new bar that’s all about escapism. Traveler will open on Tuesday, August 31 with the goal of transporting guests to Mexico with its tight food menu and intricate cocktails. The new bar is located on the ground floor of 25 Lusk, the stylish restaurant with a rooftop, and plans to rotate its menu and decor twice a year to feature food and drink from a new country.
25 Lusk chef Matthew Dolan has teamed up with Elmer Mejicanos — who recently brought low ABV cocktails to North Beach at Red Window — on the project, enlisting Natalie Lichtman, who helped open Red Window, to manage the bar. Mejicanos says he’d had the idea for Traveler — or at least, a bar that would change menus to feature food and drink from various countries — since before the pandemic. Now that he’s finally able to bring it to life, what’s the first place on the itinerary? Mexico.
“Even though it’s Mexico, we’re not opening a margarita bar or a tequila bar,” Mejicanos clarifies. Instead, you’ll see the influence in the other ingredients on the cocktail list, ones he says are too often overlooked by Mexican food and drink in America. For example, he’s using sapote, the fruit of the cashew tree, and Oaxacan coffee to infuse the drinks. It’s a technique-driven list with one drink that’s wrapped in banana leaves and “cooked” underground, in a style similar to how cochinita pibil is prepared. “Think, like a sous vide,” Mejicanos says, explaining that the ingredients are mixed together and then heated to a low temperature to steep.
Dolan says he let his 25 Lusk team, some of whom are from Mexico, lead the charge on food menu development. “[I was like] all right guys, it’s your turn. It’s not me telling you what to make, it's you telling me what to make,” he says. “I’m basically the conductor of this culinary orchestra.” The result is a menu that spans from Oaxaca — with a chicken, radish, corn, and queso-topped tlayuda — to the Yucatán — with cochinita de pibil tacos. The bar’s take on a gordita veers toward decadence with its bone marrow and beef shank filling, and don’t expect Traveler’s tamal to come wrapped up in a corn husk; it’s a banana-leaf affair with either cochinita pibil or market vegetables tucked inside.
When it comes time to flipping the script, which Dolan and Mejicanos say they’ll start thinking about in four months, they plan to bring in a chef from whatever country they’re focusing on next in an effort to “keep with the authenticity,” Dolan says. “That would be Traveler’s goal. If we take you somewhere it's going to be respectful and true to that place.”
The space, which is actually a half-level below street level, was formerly used for large events but has been tastefully transformed into a plant-filled lounge and bar. And unlike the rooftop at 25 Lusk, it’s not subject to any noise restrictions, which means your Traveler bar trip can last all the way until 2 a.m.
Traveler bar at 25 Lusk opens Tuesday, August 31 and will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to close. For more information visit the 25 Lusk website.