The Vestry at the Chapel: Valencia Gets Macabre

The San Francisco Album Project at the Chapel on Valencia Street has garnered national attention for amazing monthly drag performances set to seminal pop music albums, performed from start to finish.

Of course, for everything happening on Valencia that you can't physically ingest, a new restaurant must open, lest the laws of physics be violated. So the Chapel — where you can already eat casually — has expanded, opening the somewhat more formal Vestry. As the entire space was a funeral home from 1914 until the 1970s (and later, an experimental college), there is a macabre atmosphere throughout.

Stepping in just as the sun goes down, one feels a vibe pleasantly unlike the airy joints that have mushroomed around the neighborhood in the past couple years. The Vestry is kind of the anti-Craftsman & Wolves, but you can also have brunch al fresco and breathe all the living air you want, because the patio's now open.

The Vestry's kitchen looks to New Orleans for inspiration, with a grilled Toulouse sausage, duck liver plate, and crispy squash blossoms. An ice cream dessert called the “IT IS IT” nods to an S.F. classic without beggaring a cease-and-desist, and there are also brioche donuts. You can envision foodies stipulating in their wills that their wakes are to be held here.

On a drink menu full of allusions to death and Christian iconography, the Crown of Thorns (with gin, of course) stands out. It's the perfect sweet drink for people who profess to hate sweet drinks, and there's a lot going on once the initial sugary note passes over your palate. It's like a lapsed Catholic cocktail, made for tippling in the pews.

And the elevator that used to transport bodies was where the restrooms now are, but the gears are still intact. So … is the place haunted? “Well,” says the hostess, “the printers in the office do act funny sometimes.” Good enough!

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