Ali Tahsini grew up in a bar family. His father owned a string of watering holes in San Francisco in the 1980s. When his kids were born, he consolidated his operations to one single bar, Chelsea Pub, and it was there that Tahsini had his first job and found his true passion.
As a kid, Tahsini spent his afternoons in the bar. He’d mop up the previous night’s mess and play Ms. Pac-Man on the sit-down game console tucked away in the bar’s corner. When he was 12, his father passed away and the family sold the bar. But the bar experience stuck with him. Tahsini knew he wanted to grow up to do just what his father had done: create a neighborhood bar.
Fast forward about two decades and Tahsini has finally been able to fulfill that dream. Last month he opened the doors to his first independent bar, The Double Standard, in the old Kim’s Backyard space on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland’s KoNo neighborhood. (KoNo as in Koreatown Northgate defined as Telegraph between 20th and 35th streets)
Tahsini had been friends with Kim Okwa Janke, the former owner, and had worked a few shifts for her on busy First Fridays. When Kim decided to retire, Tahsini jumped at the opportunity to make the bar his own. It wasn’t a quick transition; Tahsini and his small team took the interior down to the studs and rebuilt it from the ground up over the course of 10 months.
“We wanted a fresh start to set new standards — pun intended,” said Tahsini. “The renovation included full demolition of the old bathrooms and bar, installation of new plumbing and electrical, relocation of bathrooms. All in all, it was a full build-out.” In addition, Tahsini opened up the back of the lot to reveal giant redwood trees and enough space for picnic tables and a bocce ball court. Tahsini explains that the goal was to “create a warm, yet modern take on the neighborhood bar.”
Most impressively, Tahsini did much of the work himself. On the day NOSH stopped by the bar, he had just finished building tiered displays for the bottles behind the custom-built bar.
“People say they metaphorically pour their blood, sweat and tears into a bar,” said Tahsini, “but I literally did. I have cuts, bruises, scars, and a ton of video to show for it.” It was worth it, though. “It is amazing to be a part of all aspects of The Double Standard,” he said. Watch a video of the build-out below.
In order to learn and to save money for this business venture, Tahsini spent the last 17 years working behind the bar. His experience shows. He spent four years at San Francisco’s Bourbon & Branch, which is owned by Future Bars, the same company that recently opened Tupper & Reed in downtown Berkeley. While Tahsini is appreciative of “the experiences [he] was afforded and the many great bartenders [he] worked with and learned from,” he is looking forward to distinguishing himself with The Double Standard. “I’m now in a position to share the culmination of my experiences at all the bars and restaurants that have made me who I am,” he said.
The short, temporary bar menu he’s been serving since opening day is concise and curated with a classic bent, but it is far from boring. Each member of the bartending team — Douglas Bedford (of Flora), David Kwon (of Hardwater in San Francisco), Rob Wertheimer (of alaMar) — contributed to the line-up. It includes The Double Standard, the bar’s signature drink. The cocktail is a potent blend of Old Tom Gin, rye whiskey, raspberry gomme syrup and lime juice; it is bright pink and appears frilly and fruity. One sip, however, and the cocktail’s strong rye bass note comes through — and it sings in harmony with the floral maltiness of the Old Tom Gin.
As the bar finds its footing, it will introduce a longer menu, including extensive beer and shot pairings, cocktails on tap and an entire page of variations on the Old Fashioned. (At the moment, the bar already serves the drink with your choice of base spirit.) “I’m a sucker for an Old Fashioned,” Tahsini said.
He also hopes to explore food options in the future. There is no kitchen in The Double Standard, but Tahsini wants to explore more creative options. “We have plans to add a food element, perhaps by collaborating with local artisans and caterers, pop-up style.” Until then he wants to “encourage customers to bring food in from neighboring food establishments.”
Tahsini’s openness with food reflects his overall goal of creating a friendly, neighborhood bar. “We would like to be that place you go to when you are away from home and not at work,” he said. “We want to be a gathering place that builds community, develops friendships and promotes social progress.” So far, he seems to have been successful. The bar has been packed on the weekends, he said, and it has been serving “an eclectic draw from the neighborhood.”
The next step? Bringing in a Ms. Pac-Man.
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