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Polk Gulch’s newest wine bar is a love letter to globally-sourced vino

Polk Gulch’s newest wine bar is a love letter to globally-sourced vino
Photo via Instagram/orawinebarsf
By Matt Charnock - Published on February 14, 2022.

Ora Wine Bar — a new spot at 1519 Polk Street that features a crafted menu of international wines — opened this past October from the husband and wife duo behind North Beach’s Bask tapas eatery.

When Sabrina Thillard and her husband, Patrick Thillard, had the idea of opening up an intimate, relaxed wine bar in San Francisco about five years ago, they were confident they could see the space to fruition. But the pair didn’t plan on a global pandemic and deluge of permitting issues getting in their way of opening such a space.

“Getting open was torture for nearly two years,” Sabrina tells Hoodline in an email. “Permits, change of usage, Board of Supervisors, and an [Alcoholic Beverage Control] complaint that pushed us back another five months, it was just non-stop. And it was all very expensive to keep moving forward before we could open.”

However, after cutting through various lines of red tape in 2019, the duo had finally decided to open in April of 2020 — a month before the world would change forever and effectively shutter all their plans to open any time soon.

“We had planned to open April 2020, and we were awaiting the last inspections,” Sabrina continued. “Then came the pandemic. And city-mandated all bars to shut down for basically sixteen months. That was a hard blow, for sure, but we waited it out… finally opened in October of 2021.”

But suffice to say the fruits produced from all that waiting and labor were, in fact, well worth it — culminating into a bar that feels “cozy,” despite its proximity to bustling Polk Street.

“I wanted a space that makes you feel like you aren’t on Polk Street, because the space is narrow and continues on and on, so it makes it feel cozy,” Sabrina writes. “We’ve got a fabulous original brick wall, a cement bar top, wood along with metal, to give it a rustic yet chic feel.”

In the back of the long bar, patrons will find a large chandelier; the owners have also added a projector to play silent movies, which can be watched while sitting at a nearby table. Drinkers can also play available card and board games — ”I wanted to add some whimsical notes to the place, I’m a total kid at heart.”

Sabrina’s “dream wine bar” is a touchstone for tasting international wines from far-away destinations like Corsica, Canary Islands, and other nations; her current roster of vino also includes fermented drinks procured from Greecian grapes. A quick run-through of its online wine list also makes it clear that Ora Wine Bar takes particular emphasis on demystifying what’s behind any single label. The menu descriptions of each wine are quick to note if the selection is “organic, organic-practicing, certified sustainable, natural, and biodynamic wines.”

Tablehopper was 100-percent correct in their sentiment that the descriptions following each wine would make any enthusiast thirsty for more. And as Sabrina explained to Hoodline, “all wine goes through [her],” and she’s tasting each and every one of them, too.

“I love the traditional, yet the fun and funky wines are such a delight,” she adds. “I’ve got so many unique wines that are not exactly staples on most menus, so people who come here can really get a taste of wines from so many parts of the world.”

Ora Wine Bar has a selection of finger-friendly bites — think cold-meat boards, nut snacks, etc.; there are also frozen Snickers bars — to fill up on while drinking. Local beers from Ghost Town Brewing, Woods, and SF’s first gluten-free beer from Otherwise Brewing are also available. 

Regardless if you choose to sip indoors or outside on Ora Wine Bar’s parklet, which is accented with black woodwork and high stools, there’s a certain inviting energy that could very well make this new Polk Gulch bar become a second home for some.

“I just hope to bring some happiness by exploring wines from all over the world, local beers, and just being with one another again in a bar,” Sabrina waxes in closing. “I wanted to create a space where everyone feels welcome and comfortable, a place that feels like another home.”

// Ora Wine Bar (1519 Polk Street) is open from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday, and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday; the bar is currently closed Sunday through Tuesday.