There is a relatively new bar in town. But this isn’t just a bar. More accurately: there is a small, unassuming cafe and bar that’s successfully blending elements from numerous concepts (small plates, cocktails, draft beer, brunch, book-lending library, book club) with style, comfort and grace. The place is Two Sisters Bar and Books and the story goes something like this: two sisters, Mikha Diaz and Mary Elliott decide to travel before settling down into the job market. In graduate school, Mikha studied continental philosophy and Mary studied Russian language and literature; they decided Poland was a good place to start their journey and they quickly stumbled across Massolit Books in Krakow and fell in love. After just one week in Krakow, the sisters knew they wanted to recreate a similar place in San Francisco. Mary stayed on in New York City (where the gals went to school) and worked from afar helping curate the books for the space. Mikha set to work with her business partners, her husband and parents, on finding a storefront in a desirable neighborhood in the city — no easy feat.
It took Mikha one year to find the old Marino’s space in Hayes Valley; getting it into ship-shape took some elbow grease and dealing with city permits always takes a whole lot of time and patience, but Two Sisters had their soft opening on Oct 12, 2011 and things have been growing and evolving ever since. When I walked in, I saw old volumes of books lining the wall to my left, tables full of folks reading, chatting, eating and drinking to my right and a welcoming bar towards the back. I asked Mikha to tell me more about the space: are they an actual bookstore? Do they do coffee or is it really more of a bar? They serve dinners, too? In talking to folks around the city, there seems to be a little confusion about the identity of the spot, and after visiting, I think that’s actually part of its charm. You need to go and visit to really see for yourself.
But I did learn that it is a charming bar and restaurant, serving wine and beer, specialty cocktails and fermented sodas, snacks and charcuterie plates. They do a $20 fixed-price brunch on Sundays. The rest of the time they serve a few daily plates, such as pork meatballs and kabocha squash bread pudding. Alex Smith is the kitchen manager at Two Sisters, and she and Mikha describe how the price of the plates really reflects the little-bit smaller portions (right inbetween a tapas plate and an entree). They’re all particularly excited about the house-smoked blue cheese they’ve been doing, and the spring menu that will be unveiled towards the end of February. It seems, all around, there’s a lot to be excited about.
Before I left, Mikha and I were just casually talking about the neighborhood and what kind of folks Two Sisters is attracting. She beamed and said it’s truly becoming a neighborhood spot where locals come when they don’t really feel like cooking. It’s not as big of a financial commitment as a true sit-down restaurant so you can just dabble with a few snacks and a small plate. It’s also a big day-time hangout with the book-lending library and the (genius) Books and Booze Reading Club where a monthly book is paired with an appropriate cocktail.
Folks can stroll in and pick up a book they’re interested in and take it home, replacing it with a book they’ve decided to leave behind. Mikha described an interesting phenomenon of people wanting to get rid of books but feeling like they were too special to drop off at a nameless donation center, so the lending library has been growing quickly as more and more people want a special home for their books.
And it’s clear from the crowd on a cold Saturday afternoon that many San Franciscans are claiming the actual space as a home, too. Just what the sisters had envisioned. Each element (good cocktails, books, and seasonal food) have truly come together in perfect harmony. There’s a lot to discover here. It’s the kind of spot that makes we wish I, too, lived in the neighborhood. For now, I’m eager to come back when I have a little more time to sit, swap a book, and try a nibble.
Two Sisters Bar and Books
579 Hayes Street (between Laguna and Octavia)
San Francisco, CA 94102
Hours: Tuesday – Thursday 4 pm – 11 pm; Friday 4 pm – 12 am
Saturday 1 pm – 12 am; Sunday 11 am – 10 pm