"I feel like I'm sitting in my grandparents' living room," says Dominique Crenn of the space.
Dominique Crenn, San Francisco-based two Michelin-star chef—and the only female chef in the nation with that honor—launched her third concept on Tuesday, March 13. Her long-awaited Bar Crenn will be a less formal bar next to her flagship Atelier Crenn, which was profiled in season two of the Netflix docuseries Chef’s Table.
Envisioned as a 1920s Parisian salon of sorts, Bar Crenn harkens back to a decade that holds a lot of historical significance for the French-born chef. “My father was born in 1924 and my mother was born in 1933, and this is very important to me,” Crenn told Food & Wine.
“When you think about the history of France and the time of the world, it was one of the most exciting times in a lot of different areas: Fashion, literature, food,” says Crenn. “It was between the first World War and the Great Depression that started in 1934. It was a time when a lot of conversations were happening, and writers and cinematographers [were doing their own thing]. For me it was a time of excitement and innovation, and it was also a scary time after the first World War.”
It’s also when her favorite book was written: Les Enfants Terribles, a somber and seductive psychodrama penned by John Cocteau. “If you go to Petit Crenn,” she says—that’s her French bistro, also in San Francisco—“there’s a beautiful piece of art that my friend made for me, and it just says ‘Les Enfants Terribles.’ It’s one of my favorite novels of all time.” (The chef also founded a series of sustainability themed dinners in San Francisco called A Moveable Feast, which is the name of Hemingway’s famous novel of Paris in the ‘20s.)
“I love the design in the 1920s also, and I feel like I’m sitting in my grandparents’ living room here. I want to live in the 1920s,” says Crenn. “Open up a wine bar with a 20th-century design? I don’t think so. It’s a celebration of France, and it’s a celebration that for me was an incredible time.”
The aesthetics of the place play second fiddle to its function: It’s a place where, she hopes, people can have the types of conversations so ripe in salons of the decade, and in the coffee shops of Paris’s Left Bank. “It’s a space where I want people to come and connect and engage, and appreciate this joie de vivre, and just have a home away from home, like the actors and writers and movie makers and fashion designers [used to have]. All those people used to get together, and there were spaces where those conversations were flowing and actual ideas were born. I want that.”
The chef goes on to say, “When I go to a wine bar here, it’s so difficult for me to just find a space for me to speak and appreciate the surroundings... You know when you create something that is very warm and inviting, and there’s a meaning in the design? It just gets your brain to a different level.”
Crenn made a name for herself with her naturalistic, contemporary cuisine—so well visualized in Chef’s Table—but Bar Crenn is really about tradition. This is reflected in the decor—albeit with modern touches—and the menu, with recipes from heavyweight French chefs (and Crenn’s peers and pals) like Guy Savoy and Alain Ducasse.
“We always forget where we’re coming from, and what matters. For me, history matters. Heritage matters. I just wanted to explore that part of myself, and do it with the most integrity,” she says.
Bar Crenn opens today, with its Google page reporting hours between 4:30 p.m. and midnight.