The space at 854 Geary St. had been vacant for 40 years before owner Miriam Lipton and wine director Mickey Clevenger decided to make it the home of their eco-friendly wine bar, Tender. Since its debut in October of 2014, Tender has become a neighborhood favorite, with wine on tap and small plates featuring cheese and charcuterie.
This is Lipton’s first foray into the hospitality industry; she and Clevenger (formerly of Fleur de Lys, Frisson, and Bacar and currently with Tamarine in Palo Alto) are old friends. While Lipton admits she has more of a background in creating spaces and design, "Mickey has imparted the legitimacy and gravitas to our wine program," says Lipton.
"I saw this place when it was empty and bare-boned," says Lipton's longtime friend Megan Hislop. "Miriam had this vision, and watching it blossom has been amazing—it just gets better every day. It’s an environment for anyone and everybody."
Photo: Tender / Facebook
"My whole concept for this place was to create a home away from home, an unpretentious neighborhood wine bar that takes advantage of the technology of an eco-friendly business model of wine on tap," says Lipton. Tender features 24 rotating tap lines (three of them non-domestic), kegged in reusable stainless-steel barrels. "When I learned about kegged wine, it appealed to me on so many levels. Above and beyond the green aspect, you have far less wine wasted. You never have turned wine, as the wine never sees oxygen. You’re not only saving on bottles—each barrel is equivalent to 26 bottles of wine—you’re saving on corks, carbon dioxide, fuel, labels, ink and boxes."
"The wine list reflects what's more readily available in the steel kegs, but we're working on that, and the 'juice' is getting better and better," says Lipton. "You might not have the geek factor that you have in larger wine bars, but we're trying to get more esoteric wines as they become available. This is high-end, high-quality wine—it’s really gaining in popularity." A new wine offering is also on the way: "We just modified our tap tower with a flow control and a dedicated CO2 tank. We'll be the only ones in the city to have sparkling wine on tap."
As a newcomer to the Tenderloin, Lipton aims to be conscientious about creating strong relationships with the neighborhood. "I'm proud to say that all of my current bartenders live right here in the neighborhood, which is one of the commitments I made to myself," she says. "Another big push for me was the reduction in noise pollution, because we’re so densely populated here in the Tenderloin, and the noise produced by recycling bottles is a concern to the residents. I did a lot of community outreach to get my liquor license, and I learned a lot about the Tenderloin and the people that live here. I now feel like I am a part of the TL. This will always be a mixed neighborhood, and that’s what makes this neighborhood so great."
Art is a big part of Tender's mission: the downstairs features murals by Andrew Schoultz and Ben Eine, both major players in the contemporary art world, while the upstairs lounge is dedicated to work from local artists. In the future, Tender hopes to host more private events, book readings and rotating art shows. Lipton also values the "really symbiotic relationship" she has with neighboring restaurant Huxley, which occupies the other retail space in the building.
"It wasn’t my intention to come in and be a part of the renaissance of the TL. When this space was presented to me, it was a place I could afford and where I knew I could grow," says Lipton. "[But] I'm happy to hear about new businesses opening around me. I think it’s important in heavily populated areas that you can have places like Huxley and Tender where you can step inside, relax, meet with friends and neighbors and get a break from the hustle and bustle and grit of the outside world."
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