San Francisco has no shortage of bars, pubs, cafes, wine bars, and beer gardens, but finding a local joint with a nice, laid-back vibe isn't always easy.
Named for the alley that runs behind it, Olive is a martini bar that's rooted to the neighborhood in more ways than one. Located less than two blocks from the San Francisco City Center Hostel, Olive is the first stop on our weekly pub crawl and, according to owner Jerry Buss, it's always been a very "neighborhoody" bar.
"There are no TVs or pool tables, deliberately. We are a local spot where people can come and have a conversation," says Buss.
Locals come to Olive to relax after work, have a nice chat with friends and, in that good-old American way, just "hang." People also come to Olive to practice their English -- Olive is a great place to pick up a new language, along with a few cocktails. Buss says the place is very popular with groups of international students, who over the course of a semester, "go from pointing at the menu to the point where we can't get them to stop talking!"
Olive offers an assortment of small bites in addition to their libations menu. They focus heavily on classic and modern interpretations of the martini, but they also have a full bar and a selection of beer and wine. Buss is primarily a beer drinker, but his favorite Olive cocktail is their pomegranate martini. He admits that the drink is less traditional (classic martinis are a little stiffer) but it's still a delicious cocktail.
Owning a local establishment is very rewarding for Buss, who learned the ropes as a restauranteur at The Cheesecake Factory. Unlike the Cheesecake chain, Olive is the antithesis of all things corporate or cookie-cutter. It's a true reflection of both the vibrant, local community and the bar's loyal patrons.
"All of the artwork on the walls is by either friends or customers," says Buss. The decor is intentionally minimalist and modern; aside from the art on the walls the interior is simple and casual. Being an independent place, the music is pretty fluid; some nights it's house and electriconica, sometimes they'll take requests, and on the weekends there's a D.J.
A welcoming atmosphere, a chill environment, and a great menu are all wonderful, but the feature that makes Olive really special is the colorful collection of fan paraphernalia. Custom-made Olive Street signs, glittering wall-art adorned with their logo, and a children's book about a reindeer named Olive all speak of patrons' love and appreciation for this neighborhood gem.
Olive mixes cocktails, conversation and cuisine six days a week: Monday through Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m., and Friday and Saturday until 2 a.m. Hostelling International guests enjoy special happy hour pricing all day, just show a bartender your room key.
This article is the third in a series profiling the local businesses that neighbor the San Francisco City Center Hostel. We met up with Hyde Away Blues last time, and the first article profiled Hooker's Sweet Treats.