This Quasi-Secret Bar in SF Is a Tucked Away Gem

Secluded… but inclusive

San Francisco has no shortage of themed bars. Still crawling out from the financial pitfalls that moated the city’s gastronomic landscape, an air of levity and growth has now replaced the contracting atmosphere synonyms with restauranteering in 2020.

2022 has seen over two dozen new watering holes open in SF alone. (Among the most hype-worthy additions to the city’s bar scene continue to be Key Klub, Pie Punks, and Members Only, the latter entry taking over the once-shuttered two-story bar space in the Saratoga hotel). And there’s an unmistakable flashness — for some, even gimmicky — in how they’re attracting patrons.

However, there’s a standout among the bunch. It’s a bar that transcended trends; it’s an establishment that believes in word-of-mouth above extremely saturated Instagram campaigns. It’s a place you might not know even exists… should you not be “in the know,” as it were. 

Bar Nonnia is this said bar that operates outside the contemporary fray. And thus has a certain draw all on its own.

Encompassing enough space for fourteen upright bipeds, the idea behind Bar Nonnina came from the same minds behind Fiorella Restaurant Group. The bar, itself — an intimate environment set inside a space no bigger than an FWB’s studio apartment in the Mission District — requires a certain Narnia-like passage. 

It’s situated behind an obscure sliding pocket door. Though located at Firollea’s Sunset District pizzeria, which features a sprawling rooftop fit for a date with your secondary partner, Bar Nonnia is set inside an indoor area.

Photo: Courtesy of Kelly Puleio

A massive marble monolith (that doubles as both a bartop and place to convene around while libations are made) is immediately present upon entry. The ceilings — low-slung, acting as an anchor for an antique Italian chandelier pronged with eight fixtures — are made of dark, stained wood. A tiled backsplash climbs behind the bar, offering a juxtaposition between the otherwise lumber wall trim. It’s unquestionable that Bar Nonnia’s play on textures, tones, and building material was a conscious experiment in how much personality you can cram into a tiny bar. 

It (mostly) works. 

The current drink menu includes just a handful of beverages — one beer, three wines, and eight cocktails. Three of the bar’s signature libations (Battle of Ivrea [mezcal, cara cara, chamomile, honey, and lavender bitters], Colapesce [umami-infused vodka, dry vermouth, and hickory-smoked olive vine], and Galileo’s Gaze [strawberry-infused gin, gentian aperitif, and Bianco vermouth]) can, however, be ordered in a flight. Patrons keen on a drink and a show should order the Slushie di Modena: a marrying of hand-shaved ice from a bartender — who will use a medieval device imported from Japan to produce the shredded frost — Bordiga gin, strawberry and pomegranate essence, blood orange liqueur, Lambrusco, and lemon.  

Photo: Courtesy of Kelly Puleio

Sustenance, too, can be had inside the space designed by Studio by LARK. Fiorella Sunset’s chef Scott Schneider carried his savvy up from the downstairs eatery to bring a small menu to the lounge. Individually, you’d be hard-pressed to mistake your order as dinner — but, combined with another two or three offerings, the plates’ collective edible real estate could be made into a meal. 

If you’re only going to have just one item, however, make sure it’s the spring onion focaccia. And yes, you’d be remiss not to enjoy it alongside the available prosciutto and teleeka cheese.

Bar Nonnia isn’t a cocktail lounge you mindlessly stumble into nor linger inside for hours. (For one, reservations require at least a $15 deposit to secure on Tock prior to your visit, which is capped at 90 minutes long.) It’s a libation-forward outing that requires intent; a sense of timing, planning, and purpose that other new bars in San Francisco lack, due to the sheer volume of patrons they serve.

Photo: Courtesy of Kelly Puleio

Both the San Francisco Chronicle and Eater SF have previously described a night at Bar Nonnina akin to an evening spent drinking in your Italian grandmother’s living room — a sentiment based on its decor, so it seems. This is not the case… if for no other reason than Bar Nonnia only includes standing room and no actual seats. No grandmother, regardless of ethnicity, would ascribe to the notion of decorating a living room sans seating arrangements.

It’s also far too opulent to be described as your relatable grandmother’s living room. 

There are no knick-knacks; framed family pictures don’t outnumber available coasters; the smell of stale perfume and old magazines have yet to penetrate the walls.

But what Bar Nonnina, in fact, is a physical space reserved for conviviality — which is undoubtedly a characteristic synonymous with a grandparent’s Beanie Babies-populated family room. 

// Bar Nonnina is located inside Fiorella Sunset at 1240 9th Avenue and is open Wednesday through Sunday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; reservations are available on Tok for parties between one to six people and require a $15 deposit per person; visit to peruse the bar’s full drink menu and food offerings.

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