For the last seven years, Sam Levy has been hard at work building a truly unique cocktail program as Bar Manager of the three Michelin starred The Restaurant at Meadowood. This fall, Levy is set to return to his roots—literally and figuratively—opening his own place in his hometown of Sebastopol, CA.
“The Bar at The Restaurant at Meadowood provided an incredible opportunity to learn from some of the most creative people in the industry. We’ve won a lot of awards for hard work. It’s a life that we shared together,” Levy said. “There are things that I’ve gained and learned from that experience that will be with me for the rest of my life.”
However, it is time to move on. So, together with several old friends, Levy will soon launch his Fern Bar in Sonoma County. The bar maestro describes his new endeavor as 100 seat “bar focused restaurant.”
Fern Bar will not be the mecca to Harvey Wallbangers and Lemon Drops that the name might suggest. (It’s a nod to the plant, not the 1970’s institution catering to ‘singles’.) “Obviously the name comes from somewhere, it harkens back to creating a comfortable space: a lighter, brighter space for people to enjoy themselves socially.” To that end, Fern Bar will feature lots of skylights, hanging gardens, and poured concrete planters.
The botanical scene does not end with decor. Fern Bar’s beverage program and kitchen will both place a heavy emphasis on making the most of local ingredients. We can pick amazing quality fruit from a tree a mile away and use it that evening,” Levy mused. “There’s something special about Sebastopol; taking advantage of that natural bounty is part of our whole team.”
That team, like Levy, will be very local. Lowell Sheldon of Lowell’s and Handline is partner in the endeavor. Lowell’s Joseph Zobel will be moving over to run Fern Bar’s kitchen. Another friend, Gia Baiocchi of neighboring The Nectary will help out with the zero-proof drink program. (More on that later.) The beer folks next door at Woodfour Brewing will help launch the brewing. (Yes, Fern Bar will also brew almost all of the beer offered on tap.)
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Of course, one can’t discuss a Levy project without diving deep into the bar. Here, like at Meadowood, the relationship with the local producers and farmers will also be on display through a seasonal drink list. Levy described the program as “garden based, botanically driven.”
There will also be plenty of classics like Manhattans, fizzes, and punches that will evoke “the era of classic cocktail culture, but again be influenced by a sense of place.” The team will take these standards and “put twists on them, reimagine classics through a modern palate” according to Levy. He added that elaborate riffs like smoked cherry old fashioneds and barrel aged Negronis only succeed because of a devout adherence to classic ratios and preparations.
In tune with a growing wave, Fern Bar’s list will include plenty of zero-proof cocktails. “The genesis of this place was to create a space where people who don’t necessarily go to bars can feel comfortable,” Levy explained. “Whether a drink has alcohol in it or not is not going to have any effect on the quality of the drink or the balance. We are here to serve the guests what they want.”
Most press accounts of Levy focus on his use unorthodox-sounding mashups like brown butter infused bourbon or cucumber-basil gimlets. However, he believes that these luxurious libations still mean nothing if they are attune to a guest’s particular tastes. To that end, Levy is also renowned for his Dealer’s Choice offerings; in his epistemology, the flexibility to go off-the-list and tailor some to the guest’s exact likes is a next level expression of hospitality. “People take a leap in trusting the bar and bartender to create something just for them. It’s the conversation,” he elaborated. “How can we make what you like a way that you haven’t had before?”
And, Levy’s favorite infusion is a sense of exploration in the patron’s mind. For him, a successful bar is one that allows staff and guest to share comfort and new experiences. “The promise is making things for the guests, letting them enjoy and have a part of our lives,” he told NP. “We have guests in our home and we’re sharing our creations with them.”
Fern Bar in Sebastopol is slated to open in late fall/early winter.