The Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco debuted in late 2022 and quickly engrained itself in the local art and food scene, hosting artist exhibits and special pop-up dinners. Now ICA will add another layer to its offerings: A speakeasy-style cocktail bar. The museum’s hidden lounge space isn’t typically available to visitors, but on the last Friday of every month, the public is invited to imbibe on cocktails, dance, snack, and view ICA’s exhibits beginning January 26. It’s a way for the Dogpatch neighborhood and locals to get to know the museum better, says ICA Curator and Director of Curatorial Affairs Christine Koppes. “For people who are looking to get out and experience something new, maybe you want to go to a bar or restaurant — but then we can add the element of art on top of that,” Koppes says.
The pop-up Called Tails will lead the cocktail program, run by owner Brack DeFries who promises “cocktails with quality spirits and fun ingredients, without taking itself too seriously.” If the name sounds familiar, DeFries is also one-half of the masterminds behind popular pop-up Egg Pals (along with business partner Chris Morgan), which frequently tours the East Bay serving breakfast sandwiches. Visitors will try playful cocktails on the debut menu such as Coco Bandana, a mezcal-based drink with lime, coconut whip, and matcha salt. Another Sip, meanwhile, employs whiskey as its base, mixed with lemon, ginger, and honey, and the addition of bonito flake, mushroom, and black sesame salt.
The bar menu will shift month to month, giving DeFries the freedom to change the cocktails according to ingredients he’s playing with or any inspiration that strikes. That’s what makes the pop-ups exciting, Koppes says. “We give [artists] an opportunity to experiment, think outside the box, do something that maybe they couldn’t do with their galleries, but they could do here,” Koppes says. “So we apply those same philosophies of the artwork to our food and drink pop-ups.”
Snacks are available via pop-up My Friend Fernando, led by chef Jacob Croom. For now, visitors can expect a mix of both light and heartier bites, such as winter fruits served with a fermented habanero and persimmon chamoy, and house-made Tajin; yellowtail tostada with passionfruit, salsa macha, and herbs; beef birria torta, with beans, cabbage, and consomme. Meanwhile, music will be provided by DJ-G, and an optional, drop-in curator tour is available at 7 p.m. so visitors can make the most of the art exhibits if they choose.
In addition to the new monthly lounge, the museum also released its pop-up chef lineup for 2024. Clandestina Cocina kicked off the dinner series on January 16, and now pop-ups Petit Percebes, Chisme, and Setsunai Snack will be spotlighted in ICA events for February, March, and April, respectively. “It’s really about giving people a different way to engage with the museum,” Koppes says.
901 Lounge at the Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco (901 Minnesota Street, San Francisco) debuts Friday, January 26, from 6 to 9 p.m. with a curator tour at 7 p.m., and runs every last Friday of the month. Tickets are available via Eventbrite and cost $17, which includes admission to ICA and one complimentary cocktail (gratuity included).