Has Blackbird fixed its broken wings and learned to fly?
The question was on everyone’s mind Saturday night as the downtown restaurant, now billed as a “kitchen + beer gallery,” opened its doors to friends before the official reopening, which is slated for Wednesday. We had only a few minutes to admired the high ceilings, velvet curtains and black-and-white depictions of trees and birds on telephone lines by artist-in-residence Matt Brown before the space was flooded with chatty bargoers, dressed to the nines and buzzing with excitement over the “new blackbird.”
The restaurant’s abrupt closing in late Setpember evoked outrage from former patrons, who were surprised to see the hot-spot go down on such short notice, notifying employees of the decision via e-mail. But Blackbird is back, under direction of chef and originator Carina Lampkin and new co-owner Demetri Gregorakis, who brings a fresh concept to the restaurant. Blackbird will be more accessible this time around, Gregorakis said, offering a “sophisticated tap experience” of 50 craft beers supported by a creative bar menu rather than the fine-dining feel of old.
Tattooed waitresses in black lace shorts skirted past one another Saturday night as they struggled to keep up with the crowd of thirsty patrons at the former raw seafood bar. It’s been repurposed to suit the modern beer connoisseur, boasting a sand-blasted gray quartz backboard with 33 regional beers and four ciders tapped into it. The bar list will eventually grow to 50 beers and six ciders, Gregorakis said.
DJ EPIC spun out Justin Timberlake and Gnarls Barkley from a back-corner platform while a swarm of 30-somethings gathered at two large farm tables — also additions to the revived space — created by Blackbird employee Rob Risucci. People pushed and shoved at two different bars on the ground floor in an effort to place an order. Solace from the madness could be sought in the upstairs loft, where inviting leather wall couches and vibrant Jason Bove paintings give the space a cool late-night energy that Gregorakis said is going to typify a Saturday night at Blackbird.
Food at the soft opening was difficult to come by. The restaurant eventually will offer a new “bar + lunch” menu (small plates for $8-$14) from noon to midnight as an alternative to its dinner menu, which features seafood delicacies like seared arctic char and squid ink fetuccini.
The beer selection includes Belgians, Reds, Pales and Ambers, Ciders, Fruit Infused, I.P.A.’s, Stouts and Darks, and Porters and Browns. Next to each selection ($2.75 to $8.75 per 14-ounce glass) is a detailed blurb about the beer’s distinctive qualitives, place of origin and flavor profile. Many of the tap selections come from Moonlight Brewing Co. in Santa Rosa, Ninkasi Brewing Co. in Eugene, Ore., and The Bruery in Placentia. Still, the East Coast gets it’s due: We tried the Smashed Blueberry from Shipyard Brewing Co. in Portland, Maine. Gregorakis was working on a flute glass of Allagash White, also from Portland, when we chatted with him.
One of the few bargoers who got a stool on Saturday was Dan Scott, Executive Director of Sacramento Beer Week, who praised the selection as he sipped at a Death & Taxes black beer from Moonlight.
The cocktail list is smaller (both physically and content-wise) but with a wide range of chef-crafted choices.
Patrons waited up to, and in some cases more than, 20 minutes for a drink although the bartenders moved at impressive speeds. Crazy as things were on Saturday, the staff appeared to have the situation under control.