There may be a 140-character limit to a tweet, but when it comes to the ground-floor restaurant located inside San Francisco’s Twitter building, the experience is anything but restrained.
Dirty Water—a 6,250-square-foot venue with an additional 1,700 square feet outside—goes big and bold on a multitude of levels. With 114 wines and 52 beers on tap, a seven-barrel brewery system, and a 50-foot bar constructed of steel—all surrounded by a Mid-Market neighborhood in transition—owners Bernadette Manzano and Kristian Cosentino’s ambitious concept is making a big impact in The City By The Bay.
“We had to push our opening date back four or five times,” says Cosentino, who is also the general manager. “In some weird way that propelled the excitement. On our very first day we had 250 people after five hours.”
Three years in the making and with more than a $4 million investment, Dirty Water became a tremendous undertaking.
“I knew it had to be done right,” Cosentino explains. “This was a completely empty space, and there were endless surprises. Everything [we chose] was custom, and the structure needed to get several approvals.”
The restaurant can seat up to 250 people and features substantial private dining space for special events. Divided into dining, lounge, and bar areas, the space was orchestrated by design firm Arcsine under the direction of Dirty Water’s owners.
“This was the only time in my life that we were able to pull something out of thin air that people really embraced,” Cosentino says. “It is beyond exciting to turn a vision into reality.”
That reality includes a lot of leather, wood, stone, steel, and 18-foot ceilings.
“Dirty Water has almost a ski-lodge feel to it,” Cosentino adds. “The restaurant maintains a sense of warmth that isn’t normally achieved in a [public] space. We wanted to get the aesthetic just right.”
Since the opening in July, Dirty Water has evolved on several fronts. Initially conceived as a paleo-friendly restaurant, the menu has expanded under Chef Chris Fissel.
“Originally we were going for a paleo-centric theme, but it was a bit stifling,” Cosentino says. “Things really took off when the chefs were given the leverage to do what they wanted. We also stopped serving dainty portions.”
The service has also been refined since Dirty Water’s launch. “It was a little ugly in the beginning,” Cosentino says. “We now offer free wine- and beer-training classes. As a result, our staff is way more knowledgeable than they used to be.”
Dishes such as Fresh Corn Risotto with sweet corn, Meyer lemon, and English peas; a new veggie burger; and Charred Shishito & Padron Peppers with cultured grits, Saba, and lemon help round out the menu. Bestsellers include a Roasted Bone-in Pork Chop and Axis Deer Tartare.
While the food has been a hit, guests seem to gravitate to the bar. Between 25 and 35 percent of Dirty Water’s sales are from food, which puts the beverage tally somewhere between 65 and 75 percent of sales.
Beer offerings feature several from the restaurant’s 1,200-square-foot brewery, and the 114 wines on tap are made possible by the Coravin system, which Cosentino became familiar with when he worked at Press Club, a nearby wine bar,
“The Coravin system lets you pour anything without oxidation,” Cosentino says. “This allows us to offer wines that most people couldn’t afford to try because of limited quantities. We can pour unique wines by the glass without the fear of wasting the rest of the bottle. “
Originally, Dirty Water was going to be a concept focused on wine and bourbon. The word’s French root, bourbo, actually translates to muddy water.
“I didn’t want to call the restaurant muddy water but I wanted to make sure the name was memorable and I wanted it to sound gritty because the area where we are located is gritty,” Cosentino notes. “I felt the name fit so perfectly because it takes the pretension out and allows everyone to feel OK coming here.”
To that end, the restaurant initially attracted a large male audience, but that is changing due in large measure to a focused marketing push by Manzano, who heads events. “We host a lot of events for women here,” Cosentino says. “We made a concerted effort to seek out women, and right now we have more female guests than male.”
The restaurant is open seven days a week, and its tickets range from $23 to $35 at lunch and between $45 and $75 for dinner. About 37 percent of guests are repeat diners, and Dirty Water, which is open for lunch and dinner, employs 74 people.
The resurgence in the Mid-Market area of San Francisco has helped lift Dirty Water beyond what Cosentino envisioned. “No question about it,” Cosentino says. “The transformation has been shocking. I think Dirty Water had a small part in that.”