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Bartavelle’s Nocturnal Alter-Ego Bar Sardine Brings New World Wines to a Gorgeous Cafe Space

Bar Sardine returns to the well-loved Berkeley cafe on Thursday and Friday nights

Dianne de Guzman is a deputy editor at Eater SF writing about Bay Area restaurant and bar trends, upcoming openings, and pop-ups.

The original plan for Berkeley’s Bartavelle didn’t exactly come to fruition right away. As Bartavelle co-owner Sam Sobolewski tells it, his mother chef Suzanne Drexhage imagined the space as Italian wine bar-cafe, a place where customers could drop in for an espresso in the morning, a second espresso or amaro in the afternoon, ten wine and cicchetti at night. But upon opening, the business adjusted to a customer base that gravitated more toward breakfast and lunch than wine and afternoon snacks — placing the wine bar idea on pause, at least momentarily.

But six years into operating Sobolewski says the team was “getting the itch to do something different.” Although deeply knowledgeable about coffee, he also began learning about wine through tasting events at Kermit Lynch and Ordinaire, and returned to the idea of launching that original wine bar concept. Enter Bar Sardine, which opened in the cozy corner spot on Fridays in December 2018 and ran inside Bartavelle until — stop us if you’ve heard this one before — the pandemic shutdowns in March 2020.

Since then, Sobolewski and Dexhage moved Bartavelle from its original space into the small, neighboring annex they used for kitchen prep, handing tomato toast and coffees through the door of the building with no seating to speak of and pausing Bar Sardine entirely. Now, as of June, Bartavelle is settling into its new permanent cafe space — thankfully with plentiful seating — and with it the team is excited to bring back Bar Sardine wine nights for the neighborhood. With the relaunch, Sobolewski says they’re trying to maintain what made the original wine nights so special in their former 300-square-foot space, but transported a few doors down to their much larger spot at 1621 San Pablo Avenue. “It had a nice kind of cozy feeling,” Sobolewski says. “So we’re trying to maintain that and trying to keep it really feeling casual and intimate and not too fancy, even though we’ve got a nice shiny, new space.”

And so, Bar Sardine returns to Bartavelle on Thursday and Friday nights from 4 p.m. onward, and with it comes all the hallmarks of what made the wine bar popular its first go around. Sobolewski says the wine menu mostly centers around selections from small producers who are farming sustainably, or regeneratively, and using organic and biodynamic farming techniques and native yeast, rather than just anything that falls under the natural wine category. “I think natural wine sometimes gets pigeonholed as a certain style of winemaking or a certain flavor profile,” Sobolewski says, “which I think is unfortunate because there’s so much out there and there are wines that are made very naturally that are also just really classic and refreshing.”

For now, the selections span bottles from France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and California, but Sobolewski is excited to add in selections from Croatia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Georgia, and Hungary. Bar Sardine will also have a “dealer’s choice” option, meaning special pours of bottles the staff is trying out, in case anyone’s feeling indecisive. There’s also a small bottle shop, if diners want to bring home a certain wine. “I think a big part of it for me is trying to make wine not so scary,” Sobolewski says. “I don’t want to be a gatekeeper of wine, so I’m trying to just take some of the seriousness out of it, but also being open to any kind of question that someone might have or generally not giving off the air that we’re the experts.”

Two patrons sit at a table of food at Bar Sardine, the natural wine pop-up inside Bartavelle in Berkeley.

As for food, expect nothing but dishes exemplifying the peak of seasonality and freshness. But Bar Sardine is also a chance for Drexhage to try something a bit different than what daytime customers have come to expect. “I think this gives her a little more freedom to see something at the market that day and come up with [a dish],” Sobolewski says. “I think it gives her a lot of freedom and also makes the food really sing in a different way because it’s produce at its best.” The menu includes salt cod brandade made of salted ling cod, cream, garlic, and potatoes over toast; there will also be salad options, as well as the addition of a hot menu item, such as a polenta with mushroom ragu served previously at Bar Sardine. “We want it to be possible to order a few shared plates and call it dinner,” Sobolewski says. Pastry chef Nellie Stark also has some special items in the works, and conservas will make a comeback in the near future.

There is still more planned for Bar Sardine. The wine bar is currently running on Thursdays and Fridays, but Sobolewski says they’re hoping to operate every night, from Tuesday to Saturday, eventually. He’s also looking to develop more exciting nonalcoholic options, as well as keep things kid friendly for parents, making it the best of Bartavelle’s two worlds, a cafe and wine bar, much like the original plan. “It definitely feels like a renewal and rebirth,” Sobolewsi says.

Bar Sardine (1621 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley) is open 4 to 9 p.m. on Thursday and Friday; Bartavelle is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

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