Bardo Lounge & Supper Club Is One High-Concept Enterprise
The Lakeshore Avenue eatery — also a craft cocktail paradise — resembles a mid-century dinner party, and you want in on this action.
Photo by Anna Wick of Ate 6 Media
It was an early Sunday evening in mid-November, and we expected to step into the same serene, lightly populated lounge we’d experienced on a weeknight about 10 days earlier. But it was a different Bardo we encountered. A jazz combo — vocalist Daria Nile and her trio — had set up in front of the window on one side of the entrance and was churning through an up-tempo standard. Nearly every chair and couch and ottoman in the elegant downstairs lounge and nearly all the 14 stools at the swanky, beautifully illuminated bar at the back were occupied. The din of music and competing conversations was lively, to say the least. A greeter met us at the reception stand and directed us to the last remaining place to sit, a blue L-shaped couch in the tiny nook on the opposite side of the door from the band, nestled up to the front window.
The crowd looked like 21st-century Oakland, but the ambience was that of an early ’60s nightclub — or, rather, a mid-century modern living room blown out to nightclub proportions. Just over a month since opening, on Lakeshore Avenue where Michel Bistro used to be, Bardo Lounge & Supper Club clearly had been discovered. Robin and I spent the next hour noshing on a trio of small plates that had been delivered to our gold/brass-rimmed glass coffee table — a cheesy broccolini casserole with Gruyère, brown mustard, almonds, and shallots ($10); a shrimp cocktail with chunks of shrimp tossed with radish, cilantro, toasted hominy, and guajillo chile ($15); and four crunchy pork “porcupine” meatballs with lemongrass vinegar and drizzles of mint pesto, plated with a half head of grilled lettuce and a wedge of lime. I nursed a subtly smoky, slightly spicy, scotch-based Magnus cocktail, with aquavit, amaro, and ginger liqueur ($14), which had a sumptuous mouthfeel and looked spectacular in a vintage glass that made me think of Tomorrowland.
photo by paul haggard
Bardo took off as soon as it opened, offering an exciting venue for gnoshing and tippling. Try the charred brassica, large dish above.
It takes both gumption and discernment to pull off what co-owners Seth and Jenni Bregman are achieving with Bardo: a craft cocktail paradise, a bold culinary experiment on a street with few fine-dining options, and a lively local hangout (with live music on Sundays, and Jenni Bregman and others deejaying on Fridays and Saturdays), all in a convincing time-travel setting. The Bregmans’ passion for mid-century style manifests itself in the same kind of obsessive attention to detail that made Mad Men feel so authentic. There are obvious eye-catchers, like the giant chandeliers — a space-age number suspended from the two-story-high ceiling above the lounge, salvaged from a hotel in Portland, Ore., and a multi-armed Sputnik re-creation hovering in the dining room loft — and the illuminated Mondrian-inspired panel near the door. And there are elements that take longer to register: the sundry but harmoniously coordinated furniture (some that came from their parents), the types of shelves and cabinetry that I remember from my own childhood, the cannily placed ’50s and ’60s household items (look for the rack of fold-out TV trays), books, and pictures (in the bathrooms, as well), and the marvelous sources of lighting, including table, standing, and hanging lamps, wall sconces, and bare bulbs strung on high. Arcsine, the architecture and interiors firm that assisted the births of Duende, Calavera, and Agave Uptown, helped the Bregmans realize their vision of a mid-century wonderland.
But this is 2018, not 1960, and while Bardo offers whimsical takes on the food and drink of Don Draper’s (and my parents’) heyday, there’s a serious commitment to fresh, local ingredients and complex, sophisticated preparations. The hardbound Lounge menu includes five categories of cocktails: Draft (from a liquid gas delivery system), Shaken, Stirred & Martinis, Mid Century, and Non Alcoholic. Yes, you can get a classic martini and modern mixology adaptations of a Harvey Wallbanger and a Grasshopper, but you’ll also be tempted by such innovative concoctions as the Imperial Rule ($10), with vodka, ginger beer, fresh lime juice, ginger ash simple syrup, and assertive lychee liquor, or the William Messer ($14), which seductively balances Botanist Gin, Grand Poppy Amaro, Bulleit Rye, and walnut liqueur. And the glassware, unique to each drink, is bedazzling.
To accompany the cocktails, the Lounge Fare includes such snacks as spiced nuts, herbed fries with celery remoulade, and pickles and puffed tendons with onion dip; shareable plates of deviled duck eggs, pork belly pot pie, and raw vegetables to dip in sunflower seed and fermented garlic hummus; plus a Mindful Meats burger on garlic bread ($17), and a 14-ounce dry aged New York steak ($45).
photo by paul haggard
The setting at Bardo is positively dinner party-esque. Dig into the grilled beets or cacio e pepe.
The alternative to tippling and grazing downstairs is the prix-fixe three-course dinner offered by reservation in the compact loft ($59 before drinks, tax, and tip). We chose from four Apps, four Mains, and four Sweets. Four accoutrements — grilled chicories, pickled sunchoke, celery root remoulade, walnut pesto — came with the entrees. A “supplement” dish (clams with carrot “bacon”) was available for an additional $17. We didn’t need any supplement. My three courses were sea urchin fondue (uni whipped into Camembert) with a quail egg and lots of grilled goodies for dipping; grilled pork shoulder in three luscious slices with a wedge of cooked cabbage and jalapeño quince butter; and chocolate oat fondue, with biscotti, blondie chunks, and more Camembert. Robin started with a hard-crusted tart of sliced pumpkin, yuba, and fennel, moved on to two slices of very lightly battered cod, with gribiche (emulsified egg yolks, mustard, oil), pickled potato, and burnt butter, and finished with a clever variation on bananas Foster — a rectangular semifreddo topped with kaffir meringue. Everything was elegantly arranged on beautifully glazed ceramics and etched glass plates. Everything was delicious. And everything was rich, to the point where we took food home and still felt some gluttons’ remorse. The menu changes frequently, with vegetarian options, so you might come across chilled chicken with jerk vinaigrette, a short rib steak with bone marrow hash browns, a turnip cake with fermented greens, and “apple jello” with lime, “cooler whip,” and “vadouvan crumb.”
From the décor to the cuisine, Bardo is a high-concept enterprise, “inspired by the comfort and camaraderie of a Mid-Century dinner party.” While eating upstairs, we felt slightly removed from the festivities below, where the warm glow and the canny layout of sitting areas for two, four, six, or more people create the sense of several neighboring cocktail parties going on simultaneously, and you want to be part of the action.
Bardo Lounge & Supper Club
American. 3343 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland, 510-836-8737. Serves snacks, small plates, and steak in the lounge Wed.-Sat. 5 p.m.-2 a.m., Sun. 5 p.m.-midnight, serves prix-fixe dinner on the mezzanine Wed.-Sat. 5:30-10 p.m., Sun. 5:30-9 p.m. BardoOakland.com (for dinner upstairs) $$$-$$$$