Restaurateur John Park didn’t set out to be the rooftop bar baron of San Francisco — and yet, less than a year after the opening of his hit Nikkei rooftop oasis Kaiyo, he’s back at it. For Parks, who is also behind Kaiyo in Cow Hollow, temporarily-closed Whitechapel, and Novela, the opportunity to install another bar on a hotel roof in a city with a lack of sky-high spaces serving great drinks just made sense. “I thought, ‘That’s a lot of rooftop bars,’” he says smiling. “But, why not?”
Located atop the 17-story Luma Hotel in Mission Bay, Cavaña provides wrap-around views — from the rolling hills around Sutro Tower all the way to the glittering Bay Bridge and East Bay beyond. The decor and menu pull inspiration from across Latin America including Peru, Venezuela, and Mexico. And while there is a small but mighty food menu, the Cavaña team is adamant: this is a bar, not a restaurant. It’s an important distinction, too, since the team hopes Cavaña can provide a new standard for hotel bars in the city. “It’s an opportunity for us to put a hotel bar back on the map in San Francisco,” John Park says. “That’s our mission.” To make that happen, he joined forces with a powerhouse team of local food and beverage experts including managing partner Anthony Parks. Beverage director Emilio Salehi and bar manager Miguel Salehi stepped away from Valencia Street cocktail destination Beehive, where they worked behind the stick for four years, in order to shape the drink menu for the new bar.
The brothers, who are also twins, say part of what drew them to the project was the opportunity to explore their Venezuelan heritage. But they’re veering away from well-worn approaches, favoring an ethos that highlights the breadth of spirits made throughout Latin American countries. Rather than cramming a dozen ingredients into the glass, each drink aims to hit two or three notes — think hoja santa, papaya, mole spices, and poblano peppers. “We think that every cocktail needs to have its own flavor identity,” Emilio Salehi says.
The cocktail names cut to the heart of that idea. For example, the Kiwi Hoja, a clarified milk punch, builds on a base of Bolivian brandy and mezcal then gets amplified with bright kiwi and peppery hoja santa. The Papaya Uva, meanwhile, marries Peruvian pisco acholado with delicately sweet papaya and grapefruit, elderflower, and Meyer lemon. And while it’s not the ubiquitous espresso martini, the powerful Coco Cafecito leverages actual coffee against Venezuelan rum, toasted coconut, and sweet sherry. Other cocktails star familiar Latin flavors and ingredients including purple chicha morada, ancho and pasilla chiles, and sangrita verde. Plus, customers always have the option to opt for classics like a mojito, caipirinha, and pisco sour.
For anyone looking to dive deeper into the world of Latin spirits, Cavaña also offers polished bottle service. Customers can purchase a full or half bottle of a selection of rotating mezcals, tequilas, and rums, which will be delivered tableside along with fruits, aguas frescas, and flavored salts. For wine drinkers, there’s a thoughtful list of low-intervention selections from across California and Latin America — for example, a punchy skin contact wine from Bichi Winery made in Mexico and a rosé from Orixe Sotelo, a Sonoma winery focused on Spanish varietals.
Chef Alex Reccio, also behind the menu at Kaiyo Rooftop, similarly takes cues from across Latin America, including his native Peru, on the Cavaña menu. Most plates lend themselves well to sharing such as the two aguachiles, one starring white fish, tart green apples, and cucumber and the other focusing on gulf shrimp paired with tomato, hoja santa, and serrano peppers. Golden brown and flaky pastel de carne come filled with Brazilian braised beef, and the two varieties of arepas pay homage to the Venezuelan breakfasts the Salehis ate growing up.
On top of the food and drink, Cavaña channels the vivacity of Latin America through art and, most importantly, music. In preparation for the opening, the management team traveled together around the region and was struck by the pervasiveness of both art and music everywhere they went. “Music was this sort of driving rhythm that tied it all together,” Anthony Parks says. To bring that back to San Francisco, they’ll host DJs and live performances from solo artists and groups. Much of the art throughout the bar also comes from south of the border including woodblock prints from artist Irving Herrera and handmade ceramics from Bay Area-based ceramicist Brie Wolf and Oaxacan artisan Ana Martinez.
After learning from opening Kaiyo Rooftop just a few blocks away, John Park says the team put a lot of thought into the logistics of getting guests up to the roof. This time, Cavaña has a dedicated elevator to take guests from the hotel’s driveway up to the bar — and once they’re up there, the space features design elements meant to protect guests from inclement weather. Retractable glass doors wrapping around the main dining room can be closed to wind or rain and outdoor bar seats not only benefit from heaters mounted above but also hand warmers posted underneath. The hope is to make Cavaña a celebration of Latin America through food, drink, and music — a particularly personal mission since many of the team members trace their heritage back to Central and South America. “We feel fulfilled,” Anthony Park says simply.
Cavaña at Luma San Francisco (100 Channel Street) opens Thursday, February 2. Hours will be 4 p.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday and 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday.