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Photo © Thomas Winz
The primary materials used in the long narrow space are reclaimed wood, concrete, steel and glass.


Bar Agricole

Aidlin Darling Design
San Francisco, California

Down to Earth in Style: Located on a gritty street in San Francisco, Bar Agricole's green interiors accommodate food, drink, and fellowship, establishing a sustainable community resource.

By Jane Kolleeny
May 2012

Though it threatened to derail the project, not even the Great Recession of the past few years could deter restaurateur Thad Vogler from making San Francisco's Bar Agricole a reality. Occupying the ground floor of the three-story, LEED Gold certified building at 355 11th Street (GreenSource, November 2009), the 4,024-square-foot restaurant is a casual "farm bar" with a name that also evokes the rum of the French Caribbean. Tracking LEED Platinum CI certification, Bar Agricole manifests similar dining and design goals. "The physical space partakes of the same ethos as the food and drink—sustainable expressions of the intersection of the city's urban sophistication with some of the best artisanal agricultural real estate in the world," explains Vogler.


Location San Francisco (San Francisco Peninsula)

Gross area 4,024 ft2 (374 m2)

Completed August 2010

Annual purchased energy use (actual usage, mostly for cooking) 458 kBtu/ft2 (5208 MJ/m2), building loads modeled at 8% reduction from Title 24 base case

Annual carbon footprint 74 lbs CO2/ft2 (360 kg CO2/m2)

Cost $984,000

Program 128-seat restaurant; 34-seat courtyard/garden



Custom woodwork Cabinet Works with wood supplied by Restoration Timber

Paints and stains Benjamin Moore low-VOC paint

Special surfacing Reclaimed whiskey tank oak hull with wood from Restoration Timber; cast-in-place concrete bars by Concreteworks with reclaimed oak bar tops

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When the economy tanked midway through design and half the funding evaporated, Vogler and the architectural team, led by Aidlin Darling Design, continued the project at considerable risk. "The owner had already signed the lease. How would he get funding and pull it off?" says architect Joshua Aidlin. Vogler's strategy: to turn the project team members into partners, asking them to donate the cash value of their work as an equity investment. Their willingness to agree testified to a shared vision of providing an artful and sustainable community resource in the gritty South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood.

Key partners include the architect, who had already designed the base building in 2008, working with its owner and second floor occupant, Matarozzi/Pelsinger Builders, another partner. Fabricators signed on too: Concreteworks, which provided the concrete floors, banquettes, sinks, and outdoor tables; Restoration Timber, which sourced the wood; Nikolas Weinstein Studios, whose glass sculptures descend from ceiling skylights; and Chris French Metals, which contributed steel elements. All of these companies became part of a team-owned enterprise. The city contributed to the project's success by taking a chance on approving a restaurant in an area zoned for light industry. Aidlin says their pitch was, "let's push zoning and create a restaurant and exterior dining court that everyone can enjoy eight months out of the year. While restaurant consultants said there was no way it would work, it has become a destination hot spot."

Interior elements consist of natural sustainable materials used in a modern vernacular. Wood is repurposed from Cabernet casks, whiskey barrels, and barn beams. Where new wood is used, such as on the bar stools, it is FSC-certified. Lighting controls and low-flow fixtures contribute to LEED points. Concrete is 30 percent recycled and lighting is high efficiency. Because the project is tracking LEED Platinum, all adhesives, paints, stains, and caulking had to be low-VOC, contributing to LEED's indoor environmental quality category. Not only is the building naturally ventilated, but a 30-kW solar array on the roof provides 79 percent of its electrical power, one-third of which goes to the restaurant.

"Drinks are served from a huge 3-inch-thick, 25-foot-long, 25-inch-wide, 'live edge' bar made of 100-year-old barn beams, installed with considerable care in one piece," says general contractor Ian Tallon of Northern Sun Associates. Bartenders experiment with inventive mixology on the rum-oriented drink menu, and barstool revelers spill out into what used to be a parking lot but now serves as an outdoor dining area surrounded by raised beds of organic herbs and plants. This outside living room and plaza animate the streetscape of the industrial area, which lacked a neighborhood watering hole until now.

A primary interior design element is a reclaimed wood "hull," made from 100-year-old whiskey barrels whose oak planks weave together and wrap the long, tall central indoor area. "This creates a lower ceiling, establishing an intimacy and warmth that runs throughout the space," says Roslyn Cole of Aidlin Darling Design.

As part of the old Jackson Brewery complex, the base building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That meant that the original corrugated metal panels outside had to be replaced with similar cladding, in this case perforated zinc panels, which create a rustic backdrop for restaurant signage and entry sequences. "Vogler didn't want anything to feel polished," says Aidlin.

After work, the owners often gather together at Bar Agricole for food and drink. "It's become a place for community building over the breaking of bread," says Aidlin. Profitable within the first couple of months, the restaurant was voted one of the 50 best bars in the country by Food and Wine magazine and won a James Beard Award in 2011. It's always good to hear about a success, however modest, rising out of the ashes of the recession.


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