More than two years after closing its doors at the onset of the pandemic, Bar Agricole will resume preaching the good word of single-origin spirits this week. On Wednesday, August 3, the James Beard Award-winning bar, famous for pioneering a seasonal and ingredient-driven approach to cocktails, will open at 1540 Mission Street. Beyond being a destination for food and drink, the space will double as headquarters for owner Thad Vogler’s soon-to-launch Bar Agricole spirits company, which he expects to debut later this year. For now, the 34-seat “tasting room” (effectively a bar and restaurant) will be reservation only, though eventually, guests will be able to slide a stool up to an 8-seat overflow bar skirting the "package room," which will serve as a fulfillment space for the spirits company.
It’s been a bumpy road to reopening for the bar and its owner. In 2021 Vogler spoke to the San Francisco Chronicle about the business’s financial struggles, management mistakes, and plans to reopen with a fresh new approach to leadership. Being transparent about the difficulties he faced as a bar owner and operator was “liberating,” Vogler says, and so far the efforts to create a more equitable Bar Agricole 2.0 are going well. “From my perspective, it’s going great,” he says, adding that many of Bar Agricole’s core team members returned to be a part of the bar’s latest iteration and have been on the payroll for almost a year. “It’s early still, but I think there’s definitely an idea of equality, of real equity,” he says.
As stated on the bar’s website, Vogler and the team have adopted sociocracy as the model of governance — which means staff break out into small groups to make decisions based on consent. For example, when it came to narrowing down the list of 12 cocktails for the tasting room menu, bartender Craig Lane says staff had to agree on each drink; if one person didn’t consent to the recipe as written, it didn’t go on the menu.
In the end, the list includes a mix of new cocktails and old favorites from Bar Agricole’s greatest hits. The Ti’ Punch is back, and while you won’t find a Brown Derby, you can order a single cask bourbon blended with grapefruit, grenadine, and bitters to scratch the itch. New options showcase Vogler's ethos around thoughtful sourcing and passion for unearthing small-batch, grower-produced spirits. You can get a side-by-side taste of two single-barrel Leopold Brother whiskeys in the Double Barrel Old Fashioned, the duo of petite drinks served in svelte Kimura tumblers, while a lower ABV option presents in the form of a dry vermouth drink spiked with a spoonful of gin and housemade strawberry syrup.
Due to Vogler's discerning eye when it comes to spirits and ingredients worthy of inclusion on the Bar Agricole menu, there's an extremely limited number of ingredients on hand for the bar team to work with. But it wouldn't be quite right to say there's a small "back bar" — because the tasting room doesn't have a back bar in the literal sense. Instead, the team works out of a center island built around an insulated ice box housing giant blocks of crystal clear hand-cut ice. The electricity-free setup means the room retains its zen-like quiet and the lack of a traditional bar requires staff to interact more directly with patrons. "There’s a kind of vulnerability to it,” Vogler says. For now, the bar team is a lean "strike force" of four, Lane jokes, who share responsibilities including interacting with and seating guests, taking orders, refilling waters, replenishing glassware, making drinks, and running food.
The kitchen, which is tucked around the corner from the tasting room down a sunlight-soaked hallway, is notably entirely electric-powered, save for a single charcoal-fuel oven. Bar Agricole chef Will Napoli returns to the kitchen, now reinforced with the talents of Nick Balla of Bar Tartine, and their approach to food directly aligns with Vogler's thoughts on the importance of sourcing and origin in spirits. At this point in midsummer, that means jewel-like cherry tomatoes tangled with emerald green beans, fresh herbs, turmeric yogurt, and anise-scented Finochietto liqueur ice cream embellished with strawberries. Fuller plates include roasted potatoes with a dollop of miso aioli and a whole roasted chicken, broken down and buried under green olive salsa.
The space, designed by Seth Boor, sports light wood accents and furniture, set against warm grey walls and reclaimed wood floors. In the open kitchen, tiles come from Northern California's Fireclay Tile, while Vogler tapped San Francisco designer MaryMar Keenan for a full lineup of MMclay ceramic dishware. Slatted wood ceilings conceal sound-absorbing materials designed to preserve the breezy impression created by the tall ceilings and yawning floor-to-ceiling windows, while also preventing the room from being a giant echo chamber.
Vogler says he's working toward a 9-item release of exclusive Bar Agricole-branded spirits this fall. He's working with producers and importers to white label spirits that align with his focus on integrity in sourcing — think, scotch made from a producer growing their own barley, peating it, and distilling it into the smokey spirit. As he prepares to throw open Bar Agricole's doors in the wake of wage theft allegations and lawsuits from vendors, Vogler admits he wasn't sure he'd ever find himself here. "It’s really weird to be doing it again," he says. "Nothing was certain." Vogler says he's still working toward getting Bar Agricole certified as a B Corp, which requires businesses to meet high requirements for social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Eventually, he says, the company's profit and loss statements will be available online for anyone to see, as well as all compensation information. Plans for a stock options program and profit sharing are also in the pipeline.
On the other hand, maybe being here was inevitable. “I don’t know how to do anything else,” Vogler says with a shrug.