The Lower Haight's bar scene has been heating up after months of shelter-in-place closures. Newcomers Woods Beer & Wine Co. and Fort Point have opened their doors, while longtime spots like Toronado and Molotov's have debuted new parklets to seat customers outdoors.
Another neighborhood fixture, Nickie’s, has also gotten a breath of fresh air. Under new ownership, the bar has added a large parklet, and brought on a chef to completely revamp its menu.
New owner Tom Mills first moved to the Lower Haight a decade ago, when Google relocated his sales job from New York to San Francisco. He quickly became a regular at Nickie's, where he enjoyed the quality pub food and wifi.
But when a new owner took over Nickie's in 2018, the food went downhill, Mills said. He acquired the bar in January, with the goal of restoring it to the "comfortable spot" it once was.
“I feel that we are kind of an oasis," said Mills, adding that he and a group of 20 or 30 other regulars consider Nickie's to be the neighborhood's living room.
The business dates all the way back to 1948, when it was known as Nickis Barbecue. It went through several phases over the years, from a dancehall to a "dirty dive bar" with a smoking area downstairs.
Shay Lyons and Noel Morgan bought and renovated Nickie's in 2007. Under their management, it became something of an Irish sports bar, offering Guinness, shots of Jameson and pub food like sliders and mac and cheese with peas.
When Mills first hired chef Sergio Nic, he planned to stick with the pub theme, with dishes like a reuben and fish and chips.
But after the shelter-in-place began, Nic decided to get creative and add some food from his native Yucatan Peninsula to the menu. In addition to the standard pub fare, diners can now enjoy homestyle Mexican dishes like chicken mole, camarones a la diabla, and puerco en chile verde. The addition has been well-received, Mills said.
Nickie's stuck with to-go service until June, when Mills put some tables on the sidewalk. But business has really picked up since the bar debuted its new parklet — built with repurposed wood from “the world’s largest picnic table," constructed on the Marina Green in 2011. With the addition of the parklet, Nickie's can now seat about 40 people outside.
The bar did its peak pre-COVID business from 8 p.m. onward, but it's much harder to control people's behavior late at night, Mills said. So for now, he's focusing on daytime hours, from 1 to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends. Happy hour is offered Monday through Friday, from 1 to 4 p.m.
Early on in the pandemic, "it was sad" to see several Lower Haight businesses boarded up and closed, Mills said. But with new businesses opening up and others returning with outdoor seating, he believes the neighborhood is making a comeback.
"Businesses all around have been helping each other get back to life," he said.