The team behind Stoa, an upcoming new bar in the Lower Haight, is all about diverging from expectations. As four industry vets who helped grow San Francisco’s Nopalito, they understand the longstanding ties locals may have to the restaurant, but Stoa is meant to be something different — just with familiar faces. Allyson Jossel, Gonzalo Guzmán, Joji Sumi, and Yanni Kehagiaras are the partners behind the venture, and they bring years of local hospitality experience into their new bar at 701 Haight Street.
The corner space is most likely a familiar one for those in the neighborhood; it previously housed brewpub Black Sands, then later an outpost of Fort Point Brew Company. But now, gone is the brewing equipment. The Stoa team has updated the space with a much longer bar and cozy details, such as stained glass lights and booths, and a new bar in the back features large windows that open onto the street, perfect for when Stoa eventually reactivates its parklet and outdoor seating. Leading the bar is Kehagiaras, who served as Nopa’s bar director before the pandemic, and who also worked at Nopalito, Liholiho Yacht Club, Louie’s Gen-Gen Room, and Dear Inga. At Stoa, Kehagiaras created a drinks program whose ethos is lean rather than multi-ingredient driven, a characteristic that helps it better pair with food, he says. “I really distill out a lot of the noise and say, ‘What needs to be here, what is this really about?’” he says. “How can I make this balanced, like on a tightrope, but also true to itself and true to its ingredients?”
Kehagiaras says to expect a compendium of his experience over the years — a “bulletproof list of ‘Greatest Hits,’” he calls it — from the starting lineup.
The menu is divided into three categories of cocktails for the occasion: “Low Octane, Yet Complex” covers five sherry cocktails, a favorite category of Kehagiaras, with drinks like Holy Smoke, a cocktail of Manzanilla sherry, Benedictine, and Ardbeg scotch. “Stern, but Fair,” the next cocktail category on the menu, is exactly that, with drinks that highlight gins and mezcals as base spirits. Summit, for instance, features St. George Terroir gin with grapefruit, lime, and honey, while the Blanco Rojo highlights Tapatio Blanco tequila, mixed with Campari, Combier orange liqueur, and lemon. In the “Lean & Mean” section, drinks lean into whiskeys and bourbons; the Belmont centers Rittenhouse Rye as its base, mixed with Dubonnet Rouge and amaro, while Katana features Suntory Toki whiskey with Dolin Blanc vermouth and ginger eau de vie.
“Stylistically, I think I’ve been infamously known as a minimalist,” Kehagiaras says. “I rarely go beyond a few ingredients. I believe that simplicity and complexity live right next to each other, and in the same way that a chef highlights ingredients, that’s the same way that I feel about cocktails.”
Beyond the cocktail menu, Kehagiaras promises a mix of local beers, starting with Russian River Brewing and Moonlight Brewing Company, as well as a trio of canned wines from Broc Cellars; there are also a couple of non-alcoholic items in the “Temperance” part of the menu.
In an era where the lines are increasingly blurred between bar and restaurant, Stoa is emphatically a bar — just with a very solid menu of bites. Sumi was previously the chef de cuisine at Nopalito, but now as head chef at Stoa, he’s devised a menu that folds in his previous experiences of working on East Coast farm-to-table restaurants before arriving at Nopalito. In true California fashion, the small plates-leaning menu will be seasonally driven, but beyond that Sumi and Jossel promise eclectic dishes that are satisfying and delicious, they say, and “pair with clean cocktails.” Although Guzmán is the culinary manager at Stoa, the menu centers Sumi’s food and isn’t meant to be a redux of Nopalito. “This is most definitely Joji’s menu and his take on food,” Jossel says. “It’s Asian, it’s Mexican, it’s market-driven. It’s all of these influences that land on the Bay Area table.”
In discussing the food menu, again, that idea of expectations creeps in — bars typically feature a burger, the team acknowledges, but they’re trying to lean away from that and find a space to surprise customers with something new and exciting that complements the drinks. The “typical” snacks, therefore, get extra oomph in unexpected ways: popcorn here gets a dose of chicken skin tossed in salt and pepper with chives; peanuts are brined and tossed with MSG and “numby pepper,” or mala; potato chips are dusted in dried seaweed powder and served with a miso onion dip. The grilled beef salad is meant to be a fresh, seasonal item, highlighting market veggies, and served with a Crying Tiger-like chile dressing. There is also a taco on the menu, but this one highlights cumin-spiced lamb with green hummus, a mix of serrano, onion, and cilantro, and comes topped with Chinese salsa macha.
Chicken wings, meanwhile, get a hit of makrut lime, honey, fish sauce, and chiles, while a grilled pork collar comes with a side of salsa verde. More unusual to a bar’s food menu is the addition of rice porridge, but it’s one that the Nopalito team insisted should be on the menu, as it’s a staff meal favorite from Sumi. At Stoa, the porridge comes with braised chicken, mushrooms, and broccolini, then is topped with an egg and scallions; it’s meant to be a comforting item, Sumi says. “We’re in San Francisco,” Sumi says. “I think regardless of whatever kind of menu you have, you have to have something that makes you feel warm and cozy because of the weather we have here. So I think this makes me feel warm and good.”
Stoa is all about knowing what’s cookie-cutter and then bucking those trends. “We’re playing around with pushing expectations a little bit,” Jossel says, “and being true to [Joji and Yanni’s] styles and realizing that it can fit in this kind of space, in this environment, without being expected.”
Stoa (701 Haight Street) debuts this weekend and is open Thursday, 4 to 11 p.m., Friday through Saturday, 4 p.m. to midnight, and Sunday through Monday, 4 to 11 p.m.