Bringing back day drinking (and day-into-night drinking), Leo’s Oyster Bar in San Francisco’s Financial District is the Big Night Restaurant Group’s fourth establishment. Named for the young son of owners, Anna Weinberg and James Nicholas, Leo’s is fashioned after the great cocktail and oyster bars of the golden era. Serving afternoon cocktails and nibbles from 3pm into the early evening, the cosy space also provides a glamourous dinner service for which executive chef, Jennifer Puccio has created a menu of utopian bar bites and generous plates.
The extensive raw bar plays host to a smorgasbord of East and West coast oysters, clams, crab legs and uni, among other delicacies of the sea. Chef Puccio has also reinvented a San Francisco classic dish, the louie, in variations with crab and rock shrimp. The Leo’s louie is a decided departure from its humble origins, incorporating yuzu, tobiko, shaved fennel and radish with an added kick of sauerkraut and Sriracha.
Fine cocktails and champagne are at the heart of the Leo’s experience. An unusually long list of vintage, grower, and rare collection champagnes are offered by the glass, though distinctive international and Californian sparkling and still wines also fill the list. The signature cocktail is likely to be ‘Mr. Nicholas’ Liquid Lunch’ – essentially a top-shelf vodka or gin martini served with gibson olives and a selection of pickled vegetables (the 'lunch' component).
Conceived by Big Night Design Director, Ken Fulk, and designed by Jon de la Cruz, the chic 40-seat space encompasses a surprising amount of different 'moments' for its size. Dappled light and a cascade of ferns are Matisse-like, filling the conservatory at the front of the restaurant. From there, the space flows, with a suit-and-tie polish befitting the Financial District, through to the sumptuous design within.
Dramatic lighting, together with hand-waxed mahogany panelling, mother-of -pearl chandeliers and a hammered-brass raw bar produce a harmonious lustre to accent the onyx cocktail bar and cosy banquettes. “It’s a dose of mid-century sleek, but also with a touch of the exotic,” says Ken Fulk. He showcases this through Moroccan tiling, whimsical floral patterns, Murano fish figurines, vintage Hawaiian shell sconces, and bamboo-caned barstools. The space concludes with a romantic champagne bar which opened on Valentine's Day.
Leo’s Oyster Bar; leossf.com
Photography © Douglas Friedman