A sandwich board outside of Hawkerfare, the longtime and well-loved Laotian bar and restaurant on Valencia Street, advertises a number of semi-obscure drinks in an array above a QR code. They include the Mellow Mule and the Hairless Dog IPA, which are just a sampling of what customers can order from Hawkerfare’s new-ish vending machine: the Nanobar, a Monolith lookalike landing somewhere between Kubrick and Zuckerberg.
All the beverages it vends are alcohol-free, and so far, Hawkerfare general manager Dolly Valdez Bautista says they’ve been a big hit. Despite the meteoric rise of nonalcoholic and low ABV drinks, a bar’s vending machine offering anything more than Diet Coke and root beer remains somewhat rare. For Hawkerfare, though, it was a chance to bring together the mocktail trend and the Bay Area’s obsession with convenience. A match made in heaven.
As far as Valdez Bautista knows, she was the first in San Francisco to put Nanobar inside a traditional bar. (Odds are she’s still the only one to do so, though Hotel Zoe in Fisherman’s Wharf has a Nanobar outside of Italian restaurant Pescatore.) One of the founders of the smart vending machine company knew Valdez Bautista through the service industry; he contacted her to see if Hawkerfare might want to give Nanobar a try. “I wanted to support my friend in the new business venture,” Valdez Bautista says. “I told them we had space, and that we weren’t filling up all the way due to COVID. I needed a light in that corner, and the machine has a neon light.”
Nanobar, which calls itself an information technology company, launched at the end of July 2021 and set up its machine at Hawkerfare that November. In the midst of omicron, it was popular as a self-service, to-go option for customers. “A lot of the drinks are good for relaxing,” Valdez Bautista says. “They’re very light. I think the machine would fare really well in a gym.” Plenty of Hawkerfare customers are into yoga and exercising, Valdez Bautista says, while a good many of her friends who visit her at the bar are Muslim and opt for non-alcoholic drinks.
Serving liquorless beverages has always been important to Valdez Bautista to ensure people could toast with something tastier than a Sprite. In fact, Hawkerfare’s virtual mocktail classes have been popping off lately, too. Valdez Bautista says of Nanobar’s offerings, the three CBD and hemp drinks, with the Recess line as a standout, are the best sellers, right up there with the non-alcoholic gin and tonic. “Some people don’t do mocktails because they say it wastes money,” Valdez Bautista says. “That’s just a myth. I sell my mocktails for $12.”
There have been moments when customers have bought drinks from Nanobar while Hawkerfare wasn’t even open. Valdez Bautista says that while the bar sets up, or if staff are on break, people can just walk in and order a drink. It’s common for sweaty gym-goers from Live Fit across the street to grab a post-workout beverage. Whether or not Nanobar will pop up in the dimly lit corner of any other bars in San Francisco is anyone’s guess. For now, Valdez Bautista says if nothing else the machine serves as a way to get new people through the doors. “I’m open-minded to new things,” Valdez Bautista says.