San Francisco’s newest destination bar has arrived: Bottle Club Pub, the latest watering hole from the Future Bars team, brings big Mad Men energy to the Union Square neighborhood on Wednesday, March 23. Located in the previous Olympic Cafe space at 555 Geary Street, Bottle Club Pub (previously teased as Heyday Pub & Bottle Club) draws inspiration from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s; the bar centers around vintage ceramic whiskey decanters with dozens of the collectible bottles on full display via a bank of 20-foot-tall shelves running along one wall.
Future Bars co-founders Brian Sheehy, Doug Dalton and Bottle Club general manager Jayson Wilde say they’ve amassed what might be the largest selection of ceramic whiskey decanters in the world, thanks in part to a few friends and enthusiasts who gifted the bar their entire collections. All in all, they estimate they have some 1,000 decanters — ranging from seductively dressed fox in a top hat to a map of the United States to a sky blue cable car chugging its way up a San Francisco hilltop — either on the shelves or in storage. They plan to rotate the bottles on display in the bar so decanter collectors can come check them out.
The bottle theme translates to the menu, too. Wilde’s drink list spans 12 cocktails split into either “reviving and refreshing” or “bold will hold” categories. The latter group, which includes Mr. Sandman, a blend of rye, vermouth, coconut, and espresso, can be ordered either in individual servings or as large-format cocktails that arrive tableside in one of those ceramic decanters. They’re not pre-batched Wilde stresses; so they’re still mixing and shaking each drink to order and then transferring the cocktails into a decanter for show. And as a throwback to those saccharine disco drinks of the 1970s, there’s also a trio of dessert cocktails on the list, including a Mudslide Slim made with Irish and French vanilla creme, vodka, Kahula, chocolate, and topped with whipped cream.
There’s a good chance you’ll want something to put in your stomach with decanters of whiskey cocktails going around, so Bottle Club is the first of the Future Bars projects, which includes swank speakeasy Bourbon & Branch and tiki oasis Pagan Idol, to offer food. (Also, the kitchen was already there, Sheehy says.) It’s a small menu but consulting chef Matt Lowe says he made sure there was enough range to attract regulars from the neighborhood — that means patrons of all ages, since Bottle Club will be kid-friendly if you want to let your little one snack on a smashburger and apple crisp while the adults share a Leader of the Pack (rye, banana, Punt e Mes vermouth). The star may be the fish and chips, which seemed like a mandatory offering with “pub” in the bar’s name, Lowe says; it’s a simple preparation of golden fried cod served alongside malt vinegar and tartar sauce.
Designed by the Future Bars team and designer Andrea Gifford, the bar’s vaulted ceilings and gorgeous brick details may come as a surprise to anyone who saw the space when it was Olympic Cafe. The building dates back to the early 20th century, Sheehy says, and over the years someone covered both the brick and a skylight in the roof. Now, Future Bars has restored the space to some of its original glory, creating a surprisingly sunny space they modernized with Art Deco gold-and-black details and bold neon green accents.
There’s a mezzanine perfect for peering down on the bar below, as well as for getting a different view of that decanter collection that stretches almost from floor to ceiling. It’ll eventually be available as a private dining space, but for now, Sheehy says customers can wander up on their own to take a look at the spread of vintage beer and whiskey advertisements on the walls. The most eye-catching feature, aside from the decanters themselves, is the back bar: to underscore the bar’s deep selection of American and Japanese whiskeys and scotch, the mechanized shelves slowly rotate from top to bottom. True, it’s also to make sure the bartenders can get to everything since they opted not to install ladders, but the effect is undeniably thrilling.
Bottle Club Pub (555 Geary Street) debuts Wednesday, March 26 and will be open 5 p.m. to midnight Wednesday and Thursday, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday.