Seth and Jenni Bregman weren’t necessarily looking to take on another restaurant. But when they found out their friends and neighbors Mark Drazek and Barbara Mulas of Sidebar had plans to retire after 30 years in the restaurant industry, they knew they had to act. The Bregmans own nearby Bardo Lounge & Supper Club, and Sidebar became their neighborhood spot, the place where they spent nights eating and drinking and chatting with neighbors; they wanted to preserve it, the couple says. “I just didn’t want them to go away, honestly,” Jenni Bregman says. “It’s always been a ‘come as you are’ spot, we always meet great people at the bar, that style of an Oakland institution. Who knows what would have happened otherwise, but we wanted to be stewards of the kind of experience that we’ve had there.”
And so with Drazek and Mulas’s help, the lakeside spot is changing hands and debuts Thursday, October 20 under the Bregmans’ helm. The majority of the staff will stay even as Bardo chef Amol Thanky and bar director Ben Dimond make some new additions to the food and drink menu, all while trying to maintain the neighborhood goodwill that Sidebar has built up since its debut in 2009. “There’s a kind of threading the needle,” Seth Bregman says. “It’s a treasured institution in Oakland, so we want to be faithful to the spirit of what brought people there in the first place, which was great food, really good cocktails, and a community environment.”
There will be a lot of nods to former Sidebar dishes already popular with guests, but dishes will also be updated to reflect Thanky’s style of cooking, which leans on seasonal ingredients. First, and most often mentioned, is the popular Sidebar burger, which will remain a staple but will get “a few little touches” from Thanky. A clams casino dish with fresh pasta is Thanky’s nod toward a steamed clams item from the previous menu, another example of how dishes will continue to evoke Mulas and Drazek’s Sidebar. But the chef is also adding some new items: a charcuterie and cheese board, and crispy pork ribs rubbed in a house-made mole sauce, then cooked, fried, then slathered in a tamarind sauce. Thanky is also excited for a chicken fried steak dish, which arrives with a roasted poblano pepper gravy and sides of sour cream mashed potatoes and green beans. “The approach is really keeping it accessible, keeping it neighborhood,” Thanky says.
For drinks, Dimond’s also looking to keep things accessible. He isn’t looking to replicate everything they do, drinks-wise, at Bardo — they tend to make “tons and tons of things in-house,” he says — but Dimond still plans to do some unique things at Sidebar. He points to a house-made orgeat syrup as an example, with their version made of pistachios rather than almonds, and employed in drinks such as the Lake Runner, made with rum, guava liqueur, orgeat, lime, and bitters. It’s an exciting prospect to be behind the bar at Sidebar, he says, as it was one of the first restaurants he first frequented with his wife when they moved to the neighborhood, calling the central bar the “heartbeat” of the whole place.
As for changes to the restaurant itself, the Bregmans have a few things planned, but nothing major or immediate. Bardo is known for its luxe, midcentury modern vibes, but they’re not looking to turn Sidebar into Bardo 2.0. One of the first changes will be the return to table service, then updates to the outdoor seating area with its views of the lake, Seth Bregman says. They’ll add in their own design touches with help from Sheyna Ochs of Roy Hospitality, with Jenni Bregman noting that the couple are “design geeks.”
The Bregmans say the transition in ownership has been smooth because they, along with Drazek and Mulas, have similar ideas and feelings about what it takes to be a neighborhood restaurant. “We feel like, because of what we share — both from a neighborhood perspective and our feelings about restaurants — that we’re ideal stewards for what they’ve built,” Seth Bregman says of Drazek and Mulas. “We’re looking forward to bringing our inspiration to the tradition that they kept going for all these years, so that hopefully we can establish our own sort of lakeside dining and imbibing establishment.”
Sidebar (542 Grand Avenue, Oakland) is open 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, with plans to expand in the future to lunch and brunch service on Saturdays and Sundays.