Bar Gemini, the newest wine bar in the Mission, has a strong wine and culinary background thanks to owners and partners Dominique Henderson and Alex Pomerantz. Together, they own bottle shop Gemini Bottle Co. just four blocks away. Pomerantz also owns Richmond-based natural wine company Subject to Change Wine Co., while Henderson has poured wine at some of San Francisco’s most popular restaurants, including Quince and A16, later going on to run the wine program at Rich Table. Still, as they tell it, the wine bar isn’t just an extension of their experiences in the worlds of hospitality and wine; instead, they say their friends’ talents helped bring the vision together. “This really was a collaboration of all of our friends that we definitely couldn’t do without,” Henderson says.
What that translates to, first and foremost, is a stellar selection of natural wine. The idea is to create a wine list that’s approachable, no matter how you feel about natural wine, they say. There are 12 wines by the glass or carafe, which is equivalent to a half bottle, and Henderson says Bar Gemini offers “a very wonderful representation of what natural wine can be” from crisp, fresh options, to skin macerated wines or, perhaps, a bubbly orange number. Having been involved in natural wine for more than a decade, Pomerantz adds, they’re not approaching their wines from a trendy point of view, but instead are taking a “seasoned approach.” They want to introduce more classic producers such as Italy’s Emidio Pepe to new natural wine drinkers, as well as show more conventional wine drinkers an offbeat natural option they’ll enjoy — and in the meantime bridge the gap between those different wine preferences.
There will also be bottles available, spanning lesser-known natural and zero-zero wines from California, France, Spain, Germany, and more. Henderson and Pomerantz’s connections in the wine world also mean friends are stepping up to make exclusive, custom wines for the bar. Gemini Bar will feature six, all-local wines on tap. To start, a Subject to Change wine option will be available, but also kegs of wine from producers such as Glassmaker Wine Co., Stagiaire Wine, and Etteila Wines. There are also a pair of vermouth cocktails from David Ruiz, a friend and owner of Mission District bar Junior as well.
For the food side, they tapped two more good friends to pull together some items that would pair well with the wine selection. Chef Brandon Rice from Ernest — Henderson and Rice know each other from their time at Rich Table — created a selection of hors d’oeuvres and dips, as well as a decadent grilled cheese sandwich made with RizeUp Bakery bread and pickled onions, plus Oaxacan, raclette, and cheddar cheeses. “I think it was fun for him to develop [this menu] because it is outside what he does on a normal basis,” Henderson says. The couple were looking for simple bar food that could also be hearty enough to double as a full meal, if someone wanted.
There are classic wine bar items like olives and pickled veggies, but also dishes Rice amped up, such as the aforementioned grilled cheese, a smoked whitefish dip, or marinated Rancho Gordo gigante beans made with fennel, Meyer lemon, and garlic. “Just watching him put his spin on that has been pretty cool,” Pomerantz says. “I think for customers, it’s really cool, because you don’t go in Ernest and get a grilled cheese by Brandon because it’s a Michelin-recognized restaurant. How often do you get a guy like Brandon to make you grilled cheese? Probably never unless you’re at his house at midnight, you know?” For the cheese and charcuterie boards, an afternoon of food and Subject to Change wine pairings with friend Sarah Simms of Lady & Larder in Santa Monica led Henderson to approach Simms with the idea of having her curate some selections for Bar Gemini. The meat and cheese items Simms picked for the wine bar are all local, such as Valley Ford Cheese & Creamery or Fatted Calf salami.
With the wine bar settling into a newly constructed space inside an apartment building, the Madelon, Henderson was concerned that Bar Gemini wouldn’t convey the lived-in feeling or warmth that her favorite wine bars around the world evoke. So with designer Margaret Ruiz — whose partner David Ruiz created the vermouth cocktails — and Henderson, they worked on creating a space that had a “European vibe with some California element,” Henderson says. The warm colors of green, terracotta and caramel leather echo California and redwoods, while the showstopper terrazzo bar top reminds Henderson of some time spent in Italy. The bar, in particular, feels special to Henderson and Pomerantz because it’s a product of working with close friends: it was designed by Henderson and Margaret Ruiz, then fabricated by Mark Rogero of Concreteworks, who also happens to co-own Open Hand Ranch, a Hopland, Calif. property where Subject to Change leases acres to grow grapes. In that way, the bar feels like a full circle moment. “It just all kind of poured out through all of our past experiences and our network,” Pomerantz says. “It’s been very special, in that way of happening super organically; it didn’t feel like we forced anything, and as a result, it shows that nothing’s really an afterthought, nothing is unconsidered, from the design to the cheese and meat.”
Bar Gemini (2845 18th Street) is open from 5 to 11 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 5 p.m. to midnight on Saturday, and 1 to 8 p.m. on Sunday.