San Francisco’s downtown may be slow to rebound from the impacts of the pandemic, but that’s not stopping the folks behind a new bar and restaurant from investing in a grand space and an alluring menu of cocktails and Italian bar snacks. Bar Sprezzatura comes from Italian-born and San Francisco-based bar expert Carlo Splendorini and Mina Group spinoff TableOne Hospitality and brings a cocktail menu inspired by coastal Italy and a list of cicchetti — those Venetian bar snacks similar to Spanish tapas — to One Maritime Plaza office tower at Clay and Front streets. TableOne Hospitality’s David Varley says the idea to “build the ultimate bacaro” first came up about three years ago. “We want to create something where people are whisked away from the hustle and bustle,” he says.
As the name indicates, Bar Sprezzatura is a bar first and foremost. Spendorini, who bartended in the Mina empire before opening the members-only social club the Modernist, partnered with TableOne’s beverage director Phil Collins on a menu that reads like a love letter to Italian cocktails. There are classics including a straight-forward negroni and an Aperol spritz but the most exciting offerings will likely be the less traditional renditions. The cicchetti martini, for example, is basically a drink and a meal in one arriving with anchovy stuffed olives, pepperoncini, and shaved truffles. And yes, there is a now-infamous negroni sbagliato on the list — but even that’s got the Sprezzatura flare, starring strawberry-infused Cocchi Americano and sparkling rosé.
Wines are expressly Italian, arriving from all over the country’s coastline: Trebbiano and Montepulciano from Abruzzo, rosé of Nerello Mascalese from Mt. Etna, and Nero d’Avola from Sicily. Beer both on tap and by the bottle also sticks mostly to the theme, one notable exception being Fort Port’s “Sfizio,” an Italian-style pilsner. There’s also a full espresso bar and menu — no drip coffee, just Americanos for the purists — to fuel lunchtime guests or for an after-dinner pick-me-up. As an alternative for post-dining drinks, the back bar showcases more than 30 varieties of amaros, vermouth, and bitters.
But even if the focus lies on the drinks, there’s a lot to get excited about on the Bar Sprezzatura food menu. For the most part, Varley and executive chef Joseph Offner, most recently at the Bungalow Kitchen by Michael Mina in Tiburon, say they wanted to stay true to the spirit of Venetian cicchetti. They knew they had to have baccalà mantecato, a traditional Venetian dish made from whipped salt cod, but they also bring it a touch of NorCal sensibility with Santa Barabara uni atop Tempesta heritage pork nduja and whipped Liberty duck liver. For a fuller meal, there are also panini, Roman-style pizza al taglio, and a list of even more substantial plates such as beef carpaccio; sepe al nero, or black cuttlefish served with white polenta and activated charcoal; and fresh bigoli pasta with duck ragu.
Martin Brudnizki Design Studio designed the high-ceilinged space, which was formerly part of the outdoor plaza. Now it’s been enclosed with towering glass windows though the remaining tile floor and new large standing light features retain a sense that you’re actually sitting outside. Blue velvet couches and plush straw-colored chairs invite guests to linger over their drinks, though there’s always the option to pull up a stool to the bar, which stretches along one entire wall. The bar and restaurant will be open for both lunch and dinner Monday through Friday — closed all weekend — so the team is betting big on office workers coming in for lunch and the return of the FiDi happy hour. Varley says the location tucked up on the second floor of the office tower means Bar Sprezzatura can be a place not just for visitors, but true San Franciscans. “It’s a little, if you know, you know,” he says with a smile.
Bar Sprezzatura, One Maritime Plaza at 300 Clay Street, opens on Monday, November 21 and will serve lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday.