Upscale Japanese “listening bar” and restaurant Yokai will officially open in Downtown San Francisco this Friday, a year after the project was first announced.
Named for the Japanese word for ghosts or spirits—and as applicable to liquor as to the supernatural—Yokai will be chef Marc Zimmerman’s ode to Tokyo’s famed audiophile bars, where people simply listen to vinyl records played on high-quality sound systems and conversation is kept to the bare minimum.
The rules won’t be so strict at the forthcoming spot at 545 Mission St., formerly the home of Salt House, which closed in 2020 after a 13-year run. Per Zimmerman—a fan of whole-animal cooking who is the executive chef at the 4-year-old Gozu several blocks away as well as a former executive chef at Alexander's Steakhouse—the vibe will be more convivial.
“Yokai is my vision of what I’d like a bar and grill to be,” Zimmerman said in a press release. “A casual, lively atmosphere, great music, delicious cocktails, a live-fire kitchen and an à la carte menu meant for sharing.”
Zimmerman initially looked to become a music engineer before his culinary aspirations took over, and Yokai will spin jazz on a set of vintage JBL Pro Series studio speakers for up to 60 diners.
With chef de cuisine Jessie Lugo—another alum of Gozu and Alexander’s—the kitchen will churn out traditional and contemporary Japanese fare, like A5 wagyu beef, Shigoku oysters with beef mignonette or a koji-cured Sonoma duck.
However, Yokai is also meant to be a cocktail bar, one serving alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks alike—such as the “Pretty Bird,” made with Kiyomi Japanese rum, coconut water, Luxardo Bitter Bianco and lime.
San Francisco has staked Downtown’s fortunes on a revival of culture and nightlife, and the debut of a splashy, upscale Japanese venue is strong evidence that restaurateurs still have faith in the neighborhood.
Meanwhile, starting with Bar Shiru in Uptown Oakland, listening bars have become more popular around the Bay Area as an alternative to high-decibel clubs.
Astrid Kane can be reached at email@example.com