Bartavelle owner: What’s cooking for ex-Café Fanny space

At Bartavelle, Suzanne Drexhage wants to create a community space that's also a destination place. Photo: Kate Farnady

Suzanne Drexhage is living proof of the adage that things come to those who wait.

Drexhage, who has worked at Berkeley wine purveyor Kermit Lynch for a dozen years, hosted her own pop-up restaurant events, served at Chez Panisse, and cooked with some of the most creative folks on the Berkeley food scene, has been scouting around for several years for a space to open her own place.

So, when Café Fanny closed in March after 28 years of serving frothy cappuccinos, poached eggs, and Acme toast, Drexhage was delighted to get the go-ahead to open Bartavelle Coffee & Wine Bar, a café-wine bar with a modern vibe and a European feel, in the slip of a space formerly co-owned by Alice Waters and Jim Maser of Picante.

The 50-year old South Berkeley resident will set up show with her son Sam Sobolewski, 23, who is returning from New York City — where he worked at Joe: The Art of Coffee – to serve as the forthcoming café’s chief barista and coffee manager.

Barista Sam Sobolewski is coming back to Berkeley to help run his mom's café. Photo: Lee Harrison

In keeping with the close-to-home feel, Lynch is the landlord of the café and Waters played a mentoring role and helped choose a new name for the café. Bartavelle is scheduled to open in July, once upgrades and design changes are in place – including new outdoor seating, an outdoor standing bar, and a fresh look.

But Drexhage is clear: the concept for the makeover of this west Berkeley café is all her own. Well, with a little help from a large, supportive community of culinary friends — and one caffeine-savvy son.

Drexhage caught up with Berkeleyside over a chicken salad at Slow earlier this week.

Is Café Fanny a hard act to follow?

Not for me. Everybody is ready for this space to be something different. People seem excited that we’re doing something new. It’s been sad with Café Fanny closed for two months, the space felt kind of desolate — until The Cro Cafe people showed up with their coffee cart.

What kind of atmosphere do you want to create?

I want this to be a community-driven neighborhood place where people feel connected. I also want it to be a destination spot. And I want to bring it into the future. My idea is for customers to feel that this café is part of the fabric of their life in that European way — we want that French or Italian cafe feel here in Berkeley.

Luigi Oldani, partner Sacha "Bean" Badame, and their Sightglass-serving coffee cart

What’s on the menu?

We’re still putting it together but I know we’ll have Sightglass Coffee. Nobody else is serving their coffee here in Berkeley yet and we love it. Local 123 has Four Barrel and we love them, too, but they’re right down the street. We love Blue Bottle but they’re everywhere. So we feel good about Sightglass, and people are getting a taste of what’s to come from the coffee cart that’s there now. We’ll have pastries: doughnuts from Doughnut Dolly, and Acme may make a couple of new items for us.

We’ll have toasted baguette and I’ll make some of my own apricot jam, and my friend Suzanne Fuoco of Pink Slip Jam — she’s in Portland now but she started out in Berkeley — might make something special for us. I may look at offering something from a local jammer too.

Also: gently hard-cooked eggs in the shell — there won’t be any poached eggs any more. I know some Café Fanny regulars might miss those. Also: pizza bianca sandwiches, salads, local salumi and charcuterie, house-made pickles — and wine of course. By the glass, half glass, or bottle, six or seven different kinds that we’ll rotate regularly. Always something sparkling, prosecco, and rosé, and a couple of beers in the bottle.

We’re thinking small plates and affordable. No $13 sandwiches here. I’d like to have a wine for around $7 a glass and I’ll have a reasonable range in terms of price.

Will this be a quintessential Berkeley café?

In a lot of ways I’m not very Berkeley. I lived in San Francisco for a long time. I love a lot of things about Berkeley and I’m also interested in what’s happening in other places, like what the youth are doing in places like Portland, Brooklyn, and Oakland. A youthful creativity and sense of curiosity – I want that aesthetic here too. Not so much a nostalgic feel. We need to make this a place that Alice and Kermit want to come to, but I also want it to be a place where my son Sam’s generation wants to come. I want everybody to feel welcome here.

It’s going to be a place where you can get a fast cup of coffee in the morning if that’s what you need. It will also be a place where you can hang out and have a glass of wine at any time of day.

So is this a mom-and-son shop?

In a way yes. We’ve never worked together before, but he’s got a great work ethic. And since he was small he’s really cared a lot about coffee, tea, and food and he pays attention to detail. He’s worked for two years in New York, so he’s learned how to be fast. When Sam was 15 he was Blue Bottle’s maybe third employee, stamping bags and pouring coffee at the farmers’ market. He’ll be 24 in August — he brings a youthful, modern energy and a new crowd to this space. I’m excited to work with him.

Once you’re up and running will you do special events?

Pop-up dinners, movie nights, barbecue evenings, fun little events with acoustic music and some art – they’re all on our dream-list for the future.

Sightglass coffee served up on San Pablo Avenue

Tell me about the name?

This is my little bridge between the past and the future. I was coming up with names that were a little too out there. My son, husband and I thought of naming it Black Wing, after this pencil we like, but that sounded a little Goth and weird. And then we were thinking of book references and my husband came up with the name Henry Green, it’s the pen name of an English author. We liked that name.

But those names didn’t evoke the past as much as some people might have liked. We went through a lot of names. I was really trying to get a little bit away from the nostalgic names and give it a name that a twentysomething might want to hear.

Alice and I were throwing a few names around and Bartavelle came up and I kind of liked that it had “bar” in the name. I liked the bird reference. It’s a partridge. And the image. And there was this loose connection to Marcel Pagnol, who recounts in his memoir shooting these birds with his father and uncle. It had a modern feel with a link to the past that I liked. It felt like a good fit.

Until Bartavelle Coffee & Wine Bar opens, coffee fiends can get a morning fix on the site’s patio courtesy of Luigi Oldani’s Cro Cafe cart, featuring Sightglass brews and a vintage espresso maker.

Bartavelle is at 1603 San Pablo Avenue (at Cedar).

Sarah Henry is the voice behind Lettuce Eat Kale. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Related:
New restaurant opening in Cafe Fanny space in Berkeley [05.18.12]
Blue Bottle offers consolation to former Cafe Fanny patrons [03.10.12]
“It’s the end of a generation: Fanny has grown up” [03.09.12]
Alice Waters’ Cafe Fanny in west Berkeley to close [03.08.12]
Pop-up restaurants popping up around town [04.29.11]

Print Friendly
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,
  • Rachel Anderson

    Thanks for this interview; I’ve been looking forward to something new arriving in that spot.  I’m particularly glad for Ms. Drexhage’s focus toward the future — not just the past.  I find a fair amount of nostalgia-as-idolatry in Berkeley and my pulse quickened a bit reading of her influences beyond Berkeley and her commitment to serving a younger clientele.  I feel heartened and anticipatory.  I wish Bartavelle a terrific success.

  • David D.

    Sounds promising. I especially like her (and her son’s) desire to serve us 20-somethings. That means we should expect a good product, reasonable prices, and little pretension. Assuming they serve good muffins (Local 123 and Cafe Yesterday’s major weakness) in addition to tasty coffee/tea, I might just become a regular!

  • Heather_W_62

    This 50-something is really excited about this new joint. I look forward to walking down the street when they open and check it out. 

  • Andrew

    Can’t wait!

  • JWong

    Agree, Local 123 has inexplicably tiny muffins that keep me from going back. 

    Good luck to your new enterprise and welcome to the neighborhood, Suzanne!

  • Petsitter101

    I am optimistic this could be a really nice place, I just can’t imagine an au lait as good as I got at Cafe Fanny.

  • Adklse

    Great news! Looking forward…but please, please have a public restroom that is open from 7 AM-7 PM !!

  • serkes

    Yay Suzanne, Sam & Stan – I love the idea of bridging the past and future with dollop of New York!

    Ira