For anyone who has been missing Bartavelle’s takeout mainstays of avocado toast, seasonal porridge and Persian breakfast, fear not: Bartavelle will be opening its new cafe location at 1621 San Pablo Ave., just down the street from what once was its annex turned takeout window, on Wednesday, June 14 — and yes, all those delicious favorites are still on the menu.
The vibe at the new cafe, formerly home to Berkeley Stereo, is warm and inviting with elements of natural wood, tiles painted in hues of green and turquoise, and the original building’s exposed brick walls. The seating is a mixture of bar stools at a sleek Zinc-top bar, and a few tables. The cafe will also include a retail space featuring Bartavelle’s own merchandise as well as highlighting products from the partners they work closely with, such as Heart coffee beans and select wines.
This is not Bartavelle’s first full-fledged cafe, of course. Mother and son team Suzanne Drexhage and Sam Sobolewski first opened Bartavelle in 2012 in the former Cafe Fanny space, sandwiched between Acme Bread (also making a short hop of a relocation right now), and Kermit Lynch’s wine store. Bartavelle was an immediate hit, delighting customers with coffee, pastries and lunch by day and, in its later years, transforming into Bar Sardine, a wine bar with seasonal shared plates, by night.
The combination of the COVID-19 shutdown and a lease notice from their landlord in early 2020, prompted Drexhage and Sobolewski to vacate that space and transform their prep annex at 1609 San Pablo Ave. into a scrappy kitchen and takeout window. While they’ve been amazed at the support and the number of customers who were drawn to their “hole-in-the-wall” operation — both locals and visitors — they say they are looking forward to finally being able again to offer their customers a place to sit down and linger.
“We have so many really sweet people who we see every day, but we have this very limited interaction through the [takeout] door,” said Sobolewski. “[The cafe] feels like a reward to them for hanging out with us all this time. It feels good to be able to invite them in, sit them at a pretty table and put a cup in their hands.”
The Bartavelle morning and lunch menu will continue to include fan favorites, but having the larger kitchen, in addition to the annex which they are holding on to, will allow more experimentation with the menu, though it is worth noting that the new kitchen will not have a stove or hood.
“We’ll never take the Toscana [sandwich] off the menu. We have done it a couple times because we didn’t have much room to do two sandwiches, but people were not happy,” laughs Drexhage. “I’m playing around with the salads more too, with composed salads and not just leafy salads, though I love those too.”
“We want to be able to have a vegetarian sandwich that isn’t an afterthought, that isn’t just like ‘oh we can put avocado instead of the salami,’” Sobolewski adds.
While Drexhage adores the coffee program she and Sobolewski have created over the years, with regular creative input from the staff, she says she has always had a soft spot for Bar Sardine and looks forward to bringing people in for a glass of wine and a refined menu of shared plates highlighting the season’s bounty.
“We’ll have an extra focus on the evening [service], because even way before we opened [Bartavelle] I’ve wanted to do a wine bar,” Drexhage says. “[The menu] will have maybe eight things that can all go together, for example some beans and bottarga, pasta e fagioli and of course the conservas. The idea is to be able to easily put together a shared dinner with friends.”
Bartavelle’s pastry chef, Nellie Stark, said she is excited about the new possibilities of expanding the dessert offerings. “I would love to do ice cream at some point. My first foot into doing pastry was making ice cream,“ she said. “I think for now at Bar Sardine it would be unfussy desserts for the line people to put together. For example, panna cotta, chocolate pudding and Eton mess. I also love a pavlova.”
Much like the hours at their previous cafe space, Drexhage and Sobolewski will start off with a coffee and pastry program in the mornings. On the days when Bar Sardine is offered in the evenings, they hope to have what they for now are calling “slow bar hours,” offering a small afternoon menu accompanied by coffee or tea while the kitchen transitions from lunch to wine bar service.
“The kitchen will close at 2 o’clock and re-open later as Bar Sardine. In between, we’re really excited to do slow bar hours. We’ll have some food that’s already made in the pastry case, maybe some tinned fish available,” said Sobolewski. “It’s a time we want to encourage people to socialize and slow down if you want.” “That way it doesn’t really feel like a dead zone time either. It’s actually really intentional,” said Drexhage.
Drexhage and Sobolewski hope that the new cafe will continue to prompt the same feeling that their original cafe, as well as their takeout window, have succeeded in evoking: A place for anyone to stop by, relax and enjoy something delicious any time of day.
“When we were doing Bar Sardine, we used to have people come get coffee, come back for lunch and they’d be back with their friends in the evening!” said Sobolewski.
Drexhage said she really appreciates that sort of loyalty. “I love that. There’s just not that many places like that. I think we mostly succeed on [Bartavelle] just being very intentional about being a special place to be.”