Now, less than two weeks before California fully reopens, the time has come when we may actually have to get back to the office. On the plus side, however, some popular lunch tables and happy hour bars may finally be able to reopen. Eater SF is proud to announce that two iconic downtown eateries that have been closed for more than a year are finally getting rid of the boards: The Sentinel, the sandwich legend on a corner in SoMa, is bringing back the corned beef. And House of Shields, the 100-year-old bar next door, is pouring classic cocktails again.
Former gourmet chef turned sandwich and bar pro Dennis Leary plans to “light the torch downtown” this Thursday, June 3rd, and officially reopen both. School cocktails will certainly not agree. “It is time – we might as well open up. As for business, there is fog in the mirror and my boys are ready to go in and feel productive, ”he says. “The risk is a bit calculated, but if there is a surge of euphoria on June 15th and people flock to the city center, which probably won’t happen, we’ll be ready.”
Both the restaurant and the bar have been closed since March 2020, a seemingly endless 15 months for many in the industry. The Sentinel is known for its changing menu with large sandwiches, especially the corned beef with Swiss, coleslaw and Russian dressing on grilled focaccia. Leary has at some point considered letting his own people do the delivery, but says he’s not interested in partnering with parasitic delivery apps and prefers the simplicity of the walk-up. He says the unplugged fridges failed after more than a year, and it was a big project with thorough cleaning and repairs. Even so, he’s looking forward to reopening with a limited selection of sandwiches. One notable change is that Chef Luis Contreras, who has been smiling behind the counter since it opened, is now an official partner at Sentinel.
An institution since 1908, House of Shields has all the original floors, chandeliers and other details, plus a classic cocktail menu. The House of Shields only serves drinks so like many bars it has been prevented from reopening as quickly as restaurants. Leary says he’s been considering putting food on the menu for years, even before the pandemic, as the Sentinel isn’t just next door – it was actually the cigar store for the bar, and the two are connected by a pass.
Leary says they could add food later this summer, but for now they plan to start with the usual drinks, with the same easy-going, longtime bartenders behind the bar. House of Shields had a couple of break-in attempts so they had to fix the door and clear up the dust, but the old school bar won’t bother with a parklet. “We haven’t changed anything at all,” Leary emphasizes. “But it felt good to lighten it up.”
Leary says he is “bullish” when it comes to workers returning downtown, and believes that as fears diminish, people want to see old coworkers and date. He also owns Natoma Cabana, which quietly reopened last week for drinking indoors, and Cafe Terminus, which was occasionally open for cocktail pickup and delivery. When the pandemic broke out, Leary also had two new projects in the works, both of which are still on hold: He was hoping to open A Huevo, a new breakfast and lunch table, the pasture eggs and chilies from his own farm in the Capay Valley served. And he also worked on Henry Africa, a new bar and grill that took over the historic space from Eddie Rickenbacker.
All of this to be said: stay tuned for more sandwich and cocktail updates.