By Rob Arias / The E’Ville Eye
Jonas Bernstein is a bit of an Emeryville historian. He should be — he’s been doing business here for 17 years. Like any good business person, he pays attention to what’s going on around him and tries to stay ahead of the curve. His second business in Emeryville took what some would construe as a derogatory reference toward Emeryville, but he decided to own it.
“I took a bit of a gamble naming a pizza place ‘Rotten City’,” said Bernstein, referencing the famous Chief Justice Earl Warren quote. [Originally established as a ‘pleasure town,’ Emeryville was described by Warren” in 1927 as "the rottenest city on the Pacific Coast.”] “It ended up working out OK though,” added Bernstein.
Rotten City, at 6613 Hollis St., has a loyal following, and pies like its Porchetta (Fresh Mozzarella, Ricotta, Parmigiano, Pork Belly Porchetta and Salsa Verde) have helped put it on the map in a crowded field of competitors. Pizza has, and always will be, popular, but there are still peaks and valleys as burgers moved into the spotlight, followed by fried chicken sandwiches … and who knows what’s next?
Bernstein thinks he know what’s next for E’villains with the imminent opening of Branch Line bar at 5885 Hollis St., north of Powell.
Before Emeryville was ‘Emeryville,’ it was apparently just referred to as ‘Shellmound,’ and a segment of the Berkeley Branch Line extended from Downtown Berkeley along what is now Stanford Avenue to the Shellmound Tower station. The route facilitated travel to SF by ferry, established Emeryville as a destination, and fed its industrial growth in the late 1800s.
Bernstein thinks modern Emeryville is still underserved, and he’s taking another gamble that its growth will continue, despite a challenging business climate.
The forthcoming Wareham Transit Center —220,000 square feet of lab and office space as well as 2,400 square feet of ground-floor retail space in a 9-story structure on the corner of Horton and 59th Streets — could make the area a hub of activity, and Bernstein is hoping more workers will decide to hang out and enjoy happy hour before getting back on the Emery Go-Round or Amtrak.
New developments, including Parc on Powell, and Emme across the Amtrak Bridge, should make this a destination for locals as well, he says.
“I’ve had my eye on that spot for a while and I really think Emeryville could use another good spot where their workforce and residents alike can grab a drink and a bite and enjoy a private conversation. We also think the time has come for the dining scene in E’ville to mature a bit.”
What’s will be on the menu at Branch Line
Bernstein’s pedigree is with the Culinary Institute of America, but he’s stepped out of the kitchen for Branch Line’s menu and it’s the creative process that he now values. A former chef, Bernstein has a vision for what he wants for the space and the menu.
“There’s going to be a little heat to everything in our menu,” he said.
Cody Gimbel, who previously worked for Berkeley’s Grégoire, has been given control of the menu and found opportunity in the kitchen’s limited space.
“We don’t have an oven, we don’t have a hood” said Bernstein, “so we have to be creative and Cody has accomplished that for us”.
Their Warm Cheese Plate consists of Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam, fig, oyster mushrooms, maitake, fried alliums, port, balsamic, and walnut Levain. Branch Line will also serve oysters, homemade salumi, and Tuna Poke.
Cocktails: No room for run-of-the-mill
The soul of Branch Line is a bar (a “high-end dive bar” as Bernstein puts it), and run-of-the-mill cocktails aren’t going to fly in an area that includes the likes of Prizefighter and Honor Kitchen. Bernstein turned to seasoned bartender Cortney Logue to formulate a cocktail menu that compliments the bar’s culinary creations. Logue has crafted concoctions fueled by as many as 30 different house made-bitters and even value-priced cocktails on tap.
In addition to classic cocktails like the Manhattan, Logue will be offereing a mix of custom cocktails like the Tiki Tom Cat (Barr Hill Gin, Key Lime Bitters & Coconut Water), the Red Bandana (Tequila, Mezcal, Hibiscus Tincture & Orange Bitters), and the Christy Brinkley (Vodka, Rhubarb Bitters and Champagne) among others.
“A mixologist gives you a drink that you’ll remember from that night, a bartender gives you a night to remember,” said Logue about her personal drink-making philosophy. Branch Line has made a conscious effort to embrace local brands like St. George’s Spirits, Hanger One Vodka, and Oakland’s up-and-coming Ghost Town Brewery.
“Cortney is a very dangerous bartender because she makes drinkable drinks,” said Bernstein.
Branch Line’s soft-opening is slated for Monday July 6. 5885 Hollis St., Suite 25 (59th St. between Peladeau and Hollis). Hours: Mon-Sun: 3pm-2am. Connect with Branch Line through its website (coming soon): BranchLineBar.com / Facebook /Instagram: @BranchLineBar.
This story was first published on The E’Ville Eye.