When The Chapel opened its companion bar, The Vestry, five years ago, the former mortuary-turned-drinking-establishment seemed a little haunted. Allusions to death and to Christian iconography abounded on the New Orleans-inflected menu — there was a drink called a Crown of Thorns — plus there was that mysterious elevator used for lowering the deceased to the cellar level, that their organs might be harvested for science or pecked out by demonic harpies. (It would be irresponsible not to speculate.)
Five years later, Vestry has come and gone — although the Chapel remains one of our favorite venues, playing host to diverse acts like Peaches, Os Mutantes, and Jade Bird. (Can we just marvel for a second that, in this age of annoying rich people complaining about noise after they buy condos in designated entertainment districts, a venue this lively manages to thrive on the busiest segment of Valencia Street?)
In the Vestry’s place comes Curio, which somehow manages to up the Vestry’s macabre quotient when it opens this Friday, June 22. The elevator is still there, and there’s even a wall-mounted ossuary full of bones, which feels a little less Frankenstein’s laboratory and a little more One-Eyed Willie’s pirate ship.
However many lost souls or misplaced femurs, the idea behind Curio is simple: good food, good drinks, and good music. Mario Tolentino’s menu includes contemporary classics like a burger with cremini mushrooms, tomato jam, and gooey raclette, plus raw-bar favorites. The Shuck the Front Door Shellfish Tower comes with a dozen oysters, a dozen shrimp, six littleneck clams, tuna tartar, a half lobster, and half a crab, along with various mignonettes and accompaniments. When brunch rolls out this summer — outside on the courtyard, as in former days, or in the La Vida Futura private dining room — you’ll be able to get shrimp-and-grits, a fried chicken benedict, and a highfalutin bagel platter with a Wise Sons everything bagel, lox, a six-minute egg, and caviar.
Behind the bar, mixologist Darren Crawford’s menu of mythical creatures spans cryptozoological traditions from around the world, including the Sphinx (Plymouth gin, Arkansas Black applejack, two kinds of vermouth, and orange bitters, $14), the Phoenix (Dickel rye, mezcal, Jamaican rum, curacao, green Chartreuse, vanilla, ghost pepper, mole bitters, $14), or the Jackelope (tequila, honeydew, tangerine, aloe, lemon, bianco vermouth, orange bitters, and pink peppercorns, $13). While eight-ingredient cocktails can sometimes be a little intimidating, if you want a frozé, you got one.
Although they aren’t melting, Persistence of Memory-style, the wall-and-ceiling mounted clocks that frame the neon word “afterlife” suggest that this artist-in-residence Michael Brennan may have traveled to purgatory’s waiting room for inspiration. If this is what the real afterlife is like, sign us up — but if the Chapel books David Bowie, we reserve the right to be creeped out for real.
Curio, 775 Valencia St., 415-551-7306 or curiobarsf.com