Step off 18th Street and into the Castro’s newest cocktail bar and lounge, Lobby Bar, which opens its doors this Wednesday, April 20. The sultry space located at 4230 18th Street is attached to Hotel Castro, a new-ish 12-room boutique hotel that debuted late last year. But there’s no direct entry to the bar from the hotel, making the “lobby” name more symbolic than a literal description of the physical space. Still, business partners Jesse Woodward (Hi Tops) and Blake Seely say they took inspiration from the long and storied history of great bars built alongside posh hotels. “There’s something about getting a drink at a hotel bar at the beginning of the night,” Seely says.
All said and done the duo spent about a year on the build-out, which was entirely new construction. It’s an angular space, with a wide front room housing plush banquettes that narrows into a short passageway before spilling out into an 8-seat bar. There’s a nook with a few tables in the back half of the space and more 2-tops across from the bar, so, altogether, there’s room for about 50 guests. The partners say they initially envisioned a 70-style design, but during construction began to mix in other influences. The end result is a teal-and-gold hued room flush with little luxe details — like the peacock-colored tiling on the floor and back wall and soft teal fur wrapped around the barstools and chairs.
The cocktail menu offers a full 14 options plus a list of 7 classics (think, martini, negroni, margarita, and French 75) with the aim of achieving mass appeal while also introducing some fresh spirits to the area. Most of the drinks build on somewhat familiar bases — for example, the signature Lobby Bird plays on a classic Jungle Bird blending rum, amaro, falernum, pineapple, lime, and cinnamon over crushed ice. The E.MT. gestures to coffee cocktail fans with espresso, mezcal, meletti, and tonic water, while spritz lovers may look to the Italian Soda, a gin-China China combo lifted with bubbles. There’s also an impressive half-dozen clarified cocktails including one made with cherry moonshine and genepy and another starring Mexican hot chocolate-washed bourbon and sea salt.
On the food side, the team channeled cocktail parties of decades past, which means everything on the menu is meant to be shared and eaten sans fork and knife. Eating with your hands is intuitive enough when it comes to options like truffle fries, arancini, and four varieties of flatbreads, but far less so when you’re talking about a wedge salad. To make it work they’re serving a wedge of little gems cut into skinny quarters and topped with green goddess, roasted beets, bacon bits, and cured egg — with no dressing on the end of each portion so you can pick it up without mussing your hands. The scotch eggs are also bite-size wonders, swapping golf ball-sized chicken eggs for petit quail eggs before wrapping them in sausage and dunking them into the fryer. The team’s unusually excited about the turkey burger, which features a housemade patty that’s actually about 50 percent spinach topped with smoked mozzarella and harissa mayo.
For those not interested in spirits there’s a tight list of beer and wines; no space for taps means it’s all bottled and canned options, but expect the options to rotate regularly. Wines by the glass include some fun gems, like a rose from Sonoma’s Scribe and zero-zero Lune Pop Carbonic Zinfandel. It’ll be a table service situation, something the owners say isn’t common in the Castro, so they hope Lobby Bar will be a new destination for a pre-dinner drink and appetizer or a post-dinner cocktail in the neighborhood.
Lobby Bar (4230 18th Street) opens on Wednesday, April 20 and will be open 4 p.m. to midnight Mondays-Thursdays, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays, 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturdays, and 2 p.m. to midnight Sundays.