It’s been a little over a year since the debut of natural wine spot, Snail Bar, but now the popular business by chef Andres Giraldo Florez is doubling: Say hello to its new sister bar, Slug.
Launching in downtown Oakland on Friday, July 22 Slug is a new natural wine bar by the Snail Bar team, sharing the same DNA and principles as the original, yet doing things its own way. This is not entirely Snail Bar 2.0, though Slug is taking lessons learned from the bar’s year in business. There’s the added music element (more on that later), and, notably, Florez is giving way the reins away, so to speak, to chef Spencer Horovitz, acting in his first executive chef role after time at Itria, AL’s Place, the Progress, and a brief stint at the Restaurant at Meadowood. “I’m only one human; Snail bar is my baby and I always want to just cook there, I can’t half-ass things,” Florez says. “I’m not a person that has a lot of ego, so I figured I might as well just give the opportunity to somebody else, let them do their thing.”
There is, of course, the same devotion to natural and organic wines, with partner Jake Michahelles handling selections, but at Slug there will be more California wines from smaller producers, with Michahelles name-checking brands such as Purity Wines, Everything is Okay, Chateau Fiasco, and Gearhead Wines as examples. For Snail Bar, Florez built and designed the space himself, but that’s changed with this new project; for Slug, Florez is taking more of a collaborative approach and working with local artists such as Gabe Kasor. “The aesthetic at Slug was dictated by all the individuals that we’ve met through Snail Bar in the past year and then utilizing the bones that were already here and bringing in a little bit more Oakland, a little bit more youth to the space than there was before,” Florez says.
Situated on the ground floor of the triangular Lionel J. Wilson building at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Slug might feel reminiscent of Snail Bar, but in case you were confused, there’s an instant reminder you’re in a new place: The tall ceilings make way for a mirror ball, which serves as an instant, gleaming, glittering reminder of its status as the glam little sister —complete with music. One major difference between the two bars is the inclusion of a DJ booth at Slug, and Florez is bringing on Oakland’s Lower Grand Radio to help with that end of the equation. “Music’s always been a big part of my life and I figured that if we can tie three elements that we love — food, wine, and music — it’s kind of a no-brainer of a success story,” Florez says.
For the food, Horovitz will be working with Florez to create dishes much in the same vein as those found at Snail Bar, but employing elements from Horovitz’s cooking background and childhood, telling his own story. Some dishes will be ported over from the original, such as the boudins and the ham and cheese, but Snail Bar fans, take note: the wine bar’s popular escargot dish will not be served at Slug, and that’s a purposeful decision by Florez and Horovitz. “I think it prevents us from diluting the brand a little bit,” Horovitz says. “We want Snail Bar to be special and its own thing and for you to be able to feel Snail Bar in the room a little bit, but have this be organic and its own thing.”
The plates still maintain much of Florez’s impeccable style, but under Horovitz, there are elements of both chefs’ tastes. Both spoke on the collaborative nature of their relationship, and how it’s been helpful that they see eye to eye on food, immediately riffing on ideas for dishes, and sharing an appreciation for seasonal vegetables and fruit. There are beautiful oysters, crudo, a peach salad, and the aforementioned boudins and sandwich on the menu. One dish that shines is the cucumber salad, which was first ideated as a crudite, but punched up. Citing diners’ newfound appreciation of fish products, such as tinned fish, Horovitz takes Japanese tarako, a seasoned roe, and combines it with eggs into an aioli seasoned with garlic, ginger, and shio koji from Shared Cultures, giving a layer of “umami, oceanic flavor” to the cucumbers. He then incorporates potatoes lightly poached in kombu, Meyer lemon, garlic, and bay leaf, then tosses the whole thing in a vinaigrette made with shio koji, shiro dashi, lemon juice, and includes chickpeas and trout roe.
Horovitz has spent time in fine dining restaurants in San Francisco and Napa, but he’s aiming to make Slug very local, working with people such as Oakland-based pop-up De La Creamery. The local ice cream brand will be creating flavors for the bar, such as the creme fraiche ice cream placed atop the miso sticky toffee pudding in the debut menu.
Already Horovitz is looking to the future, with plans to integrate more seafood into the menu, such as geoduck, as well as a plan for “scoopable snacks” for patrons to munch on after the kitchen closes. That last food bit shows a nice attention to detail, especially as the team is also aiming to be a late-night spot made with the hospitality industry in mind. With its steps-away proximity to BART, Slug is an easy place to stop after a shift at a restaurant, something Florez prizes given the limited late-night places in the Bay Area. “We offer another option, which is after 10 p.m. you could still come to a place like this, enjoy a beautiful boudin blanc and have a glass of some beautiful natural wine or champagne,” Florez says. “I wish that was here for me when I was in the industry growing up. I feel like we’re bringing something that this area desperately needs, and something that is by the industry for the industry.”
Slug (102 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Oakland) debuts Friday, July 22 and will be open Thursday to Monday, 5 p.m. to midnight. The kitchen will be open 5 to 10 p.m., with a limited menu between 10 to 11 p.m.