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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Vinyl Wine Bar's Kris Esqueda on Popups, Food Trucks, and Pretension-Busting

Posted By on Wed, Apr 27, 2011 at 2:27 PM

Vinyl Wine Bar's Kris Esqueda, right. - MARKRIS WINE
  • Markris Wine
  • Vinyl Wine Bar's Kris Esqueda, right.

The Sunday night pasta dinner at Vinyl Wine Bar I wrote about in this week's review almost qualifies as a popup within a popup. Owners Kris Esqueda and Mark Bright -- who are also behind Saison and Markris Wine Group -- set up the wine bar in symbiosis with Cafe Divis, then began bringing in food trucks and cooks in regular rotation. The lines between the two businesses blur, too: You'll find the cafe serving glasses from Vinyl's wine list at lunch, and laptops and nondrinkers sitting at the tables at night. Right before filing my story, I interviewed Esqueda about Vinyl Wine Bar, and how it became so meta.

SFoodie: So how did Vinyl take up residence inside a cafe?

Esqueda: Originally, Mike and Nabiel Musleh, the gentlemen who own Cafe Divis, contacted Mark and me. We'd done some wine-related work with a company that Nabiel was with for a while. The brothers had taken over what used to be a cafe named On the Corner and were redoing it. They were closing at seven o'clock, but thought, this is a great location, we should be open later. They had a beer and wine license in the works, but wanted to make sure that if they made it a wine bar, it was done well.

We came to check out the place and thought it was a great space and a great opportunity. We spent two and a half months planning Vinyl out, making adjustments to the cafe so it worked as a wine bar. Nabiel has a great eye for design, so we came up with the curtains, changed the lights to ones we could dim down, and built out the bar section of the cafe so there was a division between the cafe and wine bar. The biggest thing for us was that there was a level we wanted to stay at. We didn't want it to be a cafe that served wine -- we really wanted it to be a cafe by day and a wine bar by night.

In addition, the cafe doesn't have any open-flame cooking. They have a panini press and a baker's oven, so we had to come up with things we could do for food. This neighborhood has a younger crowd -- it's a demographic that Mark and I want to target. It's a crowd that is not looking for anything upscale. Not everybody can go to Saison, so it's great to have a venue where people could go and it doesn't cost them an arm and a leg. We also wanted to keep it fun. So that's why we invited food trucks to come park outside. We have a record player, and want to do more music-themed events.

We serve cheese, charcuterie, and olives on the days we don't have an event. On Sunday nights, our ex-sous chef at Saison, Jonathan de Wolf, buys stuff from farmers' markets and hand-rolls the pastas. We pair wine with it and set up a projector. We started out playing spaghetti Westerns, but now we're playing older, Italian-themed movies. We keep adding new events, but popup dinners are the route we want to take. We'd wanted to build out the kitchen, but there are so many people making amazing food not in a restaurant setting. The events give people a reason to come back, and gives them something different each time.

How is this different from what you've been doing at Decantr [the wine bar at Saison, currently on hiatus]?

Decantr -- which involves Joshua Skenes and his food-- is completely different. Vinyl is the wine bar where Mark and I would like to go to. We didn't want it to be a "wine bar," which is why we're bringing in these events -- it's more a neighborhood bar that only serves beer and wine. We have plans to have wine on tap, beer on tap, and hosting blend-your-own wine nights. We had Telegraph Brewing Company here a while back, for example. They brought a keg of beer, some of their small production stuff that they don't distribute, and served it in conjunction with Casey's Pizza. It takes the seriousness out of it.

Vinyl Wine Bar: 359 Divisadero (at Oak), 621-4132, or Open 5:30-11 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 5:30 p.m.-midnight Fri.-Sun.

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