No telling what Roger Chevalier would say upon seeing his old school chalkboard being used as a tray for martinis in an art gallery in Healdsburg, California, 75 years after he was rebellious or dumb enough (or both) to carve his name on the oak frame encircling his scribbled math problems and conjugations. If he's still alive I hope Roger would see the humor in this homage to the art of coloring outside the lines. Because it pretty much sums up what we're trying to do in The Gallery Bar in Studio Barndiva. Cheers Roger.
Our split personality at 237 Center Street is, by now, well known: Art Gallery by day, fabulous dining and dancing by night. Now we're adding yet another personality to a historical mix which once included a skating rink (1860, burned to the ground) and an auto body shop (segued into a head shop). We have benefited greatly from Healdsburg's growing popularity the past few years, but we miss the oddball irrepressibility which first attracted us to this town. We miss the custom of neighbors drifting into the Barn after work for a few drinks with friends, groups that would exponentially grow by dragging a few tables together without worrying about the noise or someone with a reservation needing the tables.
The first bar I ever frequented with any regularity was in Westwood, just off the campus from UCLA, where Professors in the graduate Film and English departments would go to drown their sorrows proving the adage if you can't write, teach. Then drink. The Algonquin it was not, but they were heady political and cultural times and the combination of elevated conversation fueled by glass after glass of wan liquids in cold glasses was catnip to me. I was old enough by then to have lifted a glass in more than a few grand hotels bars where the cocktails arrived on silver trays, the lighting was sexy, the floral arrangements large. I was also no stranger to the seedy dives filled with great jukebox soundtracks and cracked leather booths that flourished along Sunset and Santa Monica Boulevard. To this day I still have a fondness for both swank and dive; more elusive to find is the camaraderie of community. There's something to be said for those rare drinking establishments that put bonhomie before the booze.
Because the space is still very much an art gallery, a crazily eclectic collection of antiques, painted and sculptural stories, we wanted the spirits in the Gallery Bar to reflect a keenly curated selection of artisanal spirits. All the popular brands will be on hand, but to make it into one of the framed vitrines we've built on the back bar we're sourcing smaller batch spirits made by inspired and passionate distillers. A higher calling that's really never gone away, distilling is suddenly resurgent in virtually every part of the country right now. Happily, many of the best distillers are working right here in the North Coast.
For ten years Barndiva Restaurant has been proud to create nuanced cocktails with layers of complex flavors meant to compliment the exquisite food coming out of Ryan Fancher's kitchen. For the Gallery Bar, we are going in a different direction, not re-inventing the classics so much as putting our spin on them. These are simpler cocktails, elegant but spare, three ingredients or less, that come up cold and fast. Combine the practiced insouciance of Nick and Nora in The Thin Man Movies and the exacting standards of James Bond and you'll see where we're headed.
As for the food, it's still all about our farmers, but while the way we prepare each dish in the Barn is necessarily time consuming the bites at the Studio are designed as lounge dining, easily plated to share with friends. To come up with the opening menu we spent a few months reaching into the walk-in and pulling out whatever struck our fancy, cooking the kind of dishes we crave after a hard service or on our days off. This is what came out of the kitchen: juicy pork meatballs redolent with fennel and red pepper; perfect baby radishes with sweet butter and salt; a tricked out Cuban sandwich with extra pickled peppers; an artisan platter with enough fixings to last through a bottle of wine. Geoff wanted fish and chips, Lukka voted for bone marrow tater tots. I wanted everything served on olive wood platters, no utensils necessary (though if you want them, we are happy to oblige.)
Andrew Wycoff, Ryan’s oh so talented protégé, is leading up the new studio kitchen, bringing incredible focus and a sense of mischief we're going to encourage. Their initial menu is briny, salty, crunchy. Think ‘bistro small plate specials,' which balance the local heart of a blue plate with a more manageable size that leaves room for more than one dish. Manageable pricing too.
So here it is: The Gallery Bar in Studio Barndiva. A no reservation policy, with expanded hours five nights a week. Liz from Oklahoma will steer the evenings, with Dawid, from Poland, whom many already know as our charismatic Gallery Manager, now shaking a mean Manhattan when he's not showing off the collection. Continuous food and drink from 3 o'clock on.
The brilliant film montage installations will change monthly, curated by Isabel Hales. Given how many of these cinematic nuggets come from movies I first saw on those long days that ended in that bar in Westwood, there is a sweet nostalgia to working on this project with my daughter. We'll no doubt expound more on the entertainment front as we find performers we want to see and hear in the Gallery, but for now Isabel says to tell you everything will change because everything must change. Words to live by.
Come and see us!