NautiCali :: Virgil’s Sea Room

by Ray Aguilera
Saturday Jan 11, 2014

Walking into Virgil's Sea Room is a bit like deja vu. It feels familiar and friendly, but brand new at the same time. Straddling the border between the Outer Mission and Bernal Heights, Virgil's (3152 Mission Street at Precita) aims to be a neighborhood bar in a neighborhood where the new and the old are constantly overlapping. With a retro interior by San Francisco designer David Marks, Virgil's is a reflection of its changing environs.

The first thing I noticed was the black on gold flocked wallpaper, which feels vintage, because it is. On a recent visit, over a couple of Virgil's signature cocktails, Marks told me that surprisingly, the wallpaper was already in place when Virgil's moved into the space formerly occupied by Nap's. It was there, but covered by posters and other random stuff the previous bar had accumulated over the years.

"It's amazing," Marks said of the 1960s black and gold flocked pattern that adorns the majority of the vertical surfaces at Virgil's. "They kept as much of it as possible, and it turned out to be perfect for the new space."

The interior is tastefully complimented by a small collections of objects throughout, making Virgil's feel more like part of someone's home than a bar. The glittery popcorn ceiling helps there, too. There's a cozy alcove up front, and cocktail tables across from the bar, which runs along one wall. In back, a squareish room is great for small groups, and there's an awesome painting of a clipper ship on one wall - it is Virgil's Sea Room, after all. And speaking of Virgil, who is he? That depends on who you ask, and it's one of the many charms of this laid-back spot.

Make no mistake, even though the vibe is relaxed and comfortable, this bar means business. The jukebox is filled with an eclectic mix of amazing tunes. Sonic Youth rubs shoulders with TLC, David Bowie, Ritchie Valens and A Tribe Called Quest. With cocktails named after local heroes (some of whom you should already know, the rest definitely worth learning about) Virgil's pays homage to San Francisco's past.

Tom Temprano, a Virgil's co-owner and President of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club (as well as one of the driving forces behind Hard French at neighboring El Rio) shed some light on how the bar decided who to honor in liquid form.

"They are inspirations to us," he said. "We created our local heroes cocktail menu to honor some of the folks who make this city so special. We wanted to pay homage to the everyday San Franciscans who make us fall in love with this city."

In particular, the Dick Vivian (named after the proprietor of a Lower Haight record store specializing in soul 45's) and the Vicki Marlane (in honor of the legendary San Francisco drag queen and trans performer) are excellent places to start a drinking adventure at Virgil's.

The former is a spin on a classic Negroni, featuring Bombay Sapphire gin, Noilly Prat vermouth, and Cynar; the latter a refreshing concoction of Hangar One vodka, St. Germaine, and fresh lemon. The best part is that, like the bar itself, Virgil's prices are a mix of old and new: new-school cocktails at old-school prices. The most expensive specialty cocktails are $9, a far cry from what some newer cocktail lounges are charging for similar libations. Temprano describes Virgil's as a friendly neighborhood bar that welcomes everyone.

Fans of karaoke at Nap's won't be disappointed, either. Temprano told me that later this month, Virgil's will be restarting the neighborhood tradition every Thursday, hosted by the legendary Nap himself, calling it "the least judgmental karaoke night in town."

Virgil's is also going to be debuting a new $2 Tuesday menu of margaritas and Tecates for folks on a budget. Plus, the awesome outdoor patio is open, and once the weather gets a little better, you can expect more food pop-ups out back.
Temprano says, "The landscape of bars and restaurants in the Mission and the whole city is changing. We are committed to a diverse space that is both queer and straight and we've done our best to create a kind of upscale dive where the cocktails are great but you feel super comfortable and not too fancy. Some old with the new, a mixed space that celebrates San Francisco culture and embraces differences."

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