Ten years ago, when the cocktail bar Trick Dog opened in the Mission District of San Francisco, it had a clear intention: to create cocktails that were inventive and fun, but not pretentious. “When it opened, a lot of the thinking we all had behind it was to make cocktails less precious,” says Morgan Schick, a former employee of the bar. “They don’t have to be rarified to be delicious, and they’re supposed to be fun.”
Schick, who spent 15 years in the Bay Area working in bars and restaurants, used that same ethos as the jumping off point for his future wine bar, set to open this spring on Southeast Yamhill. Grape Ape — a tiny, 700-square-foot-and-change bar and bottle shop — will have an eclectic and interesting selection of low-intervention wines and bar snacks, but Schick wants to forgo the old hangups and stereotypes of wine bars, the pretentiousness or inaccessibility sometimes associated with the genre. For him, focusing on natural wine allows him to do that.
“Beyond the moral elements of better agriculture, better labor practices, which shouldn’t be yada-yada’d over, there’s a democratization of wine culture [with natural wine],” he says. “There’s an indie rock vibe: The people who started the movement were the people who broke with the traditions and were willing to make something really weird because they thought it could be better.”
Grape Ape will open early as a bottle shop, transitioning to bar service later on. Throughout the day, the restaurant will serve snacks and takeout-friendly food, like Raclette-and-ham sandwiches or salads. Once bar service begins, Grape Ape will offer a variety of glass pours, wine-based cocktails, and house-made vermouth, plus a spritz on tap. A wall of bottles will be available for retail or to drink onsite, for a corkage fee. The 20-seat bar will also provide some small tapas-like snacks and small plates, with a menu still in development — Schick anticipates things like tortilla Española, toasts topped with marinated mushrooms or white beans, and slices of country pate with mustard. “I will admit that, as I talk about it, I get a little bit more ambitious with the food,” he says. “I think, ‘Oh and I’ll do a scallop crudo, and an agedashi tofu,’ but it’s like, I’ll basically be making this on a cooler behind a bar with an induction burner.”
The wines themselves will be eclectic, from around the world. In his words, Schick won’t be “militant” about how natural the wines he serves will be; he will sell some “zero-zero” wines, which generally refers to a winemaking style that keeps anything naturally occurring in the wine and rejects the use of additives or sulphites, but there will also be some broader organic and biodynamic wines, or wines that may involve some traditional winemaking techniques. Specific winemakers he mentioned included Ruth Lewandowski Wines, California’s Subject to Change, and Oregon favorite the Marigny. “One of the nice things about this project is that I can develop relationships with winemakers in a way you don’t get to when you’re just drinking it,” he says.
Grape Ape will open at 77 SE Yamhill Street.