FERN BAR: A Delightful Place for a Drink
Fern Bar, the latest night spot at The Barlow in Sebastopol, has managed to create an atmosphere draped in the splendor of yesteryear’s fern bars: lush foliage curated by neighboring floral designer California Sister, an array of lamps lit to perfection, a classy lounge area, and a touch of ‘70s décor with the likes of macramé wall hangings, metal owl sculptures, and shelves of vintage books. Even the leather menu covers—created by Sonoma County-based Oberon Designs—enhance the foresty atmosphere. The folky retro vibe is balanced by sleek modern table tops, and cocktails are served in gorgeous glassware with reusable metal straws.
It’s a delightful place for a drink when you’re in Sebastopol.
Back in the day, singles flocked to the fern bars, notorious for their cruisability and potential for swarms of casual hook ups. The establishments often catered to what (they assumed) women wanted: a drinking environment furnished like a groovy home, adorned with potted and hanging plants, (always a Boston fern or two) and offerings of overly sweet, unsophisticated cocktails.
Still, the cocktails at Sebastopol’s modern (and slightly ironic) take on the fern bar are anything but sugary and unsophisticated. They even offer a “Spirit-Free” menu. These specialty zero-proof cocktails include Seedlip’s non-alcoholic distilled spirits, herbal elixirs, shrubs, and herbal syrups.
For those seeking a buzz, one of Fern Bar’s most popular cocktails, Hot Blooded, is a delicious blend of Reposado Tequila, mescal, jalapeno-blood orange cordial and lime, topped with a light egg white foam. Another tasty drink for tequila lovers is The Tamarind Man, which combines blanco tequila, tamarind, coconut-ginger shrub, chili lime sherbet, lime, and orange.
A selection of classic cocktails, such as Manhattans, are also on offer. Their Moscow Mule is on tap and wins a gold star as my favorite version ever. It arrives in a traditional copper mug with an original added twist: a sprig of rosemary, slightly ablaze, for an additional sensory experience while sipping (or gulping) it down.
Nearly every cocktail—spirited or free-spirited—runs $13. The drink menu also offers a local selection of beer, wine and cider, featuring brews from Moonlight Brewery and Barrel Brothers, and reds, whites, and other wines from Sonoma Coast Winery.
So what about the food? On that front, Fern Bar does not disappoint. The menu is delineated by “Nibbles” (pickles, olives, chive pancakes), “Crop Share” (aged fries, greens, ancient grains), and “Animal Share” (crab, beef tartar, sopaipilla). Much of the produce is sourced from nearby Two Belly Acre Farm in Sebastopol.
My group indulged in fried chicken with hot sauce crema, an assortment of pickled vegetables like kimchi, kraut, and pickled fennel, bone marrow, pickled quail eggs, and liver pâté with kabocha squash chips. We closed out our night with a generous serving of bay nut custard with bitter orange sauce, and churros with spiced chocolate.
Aside from the drool-worthy menu items, and the ultimate plant lover’s ambiance, one of the best aspects about Fern Bar is a staff that appears to genuinely enjoy working there. Everyone we interacted with was helpful, witty, and kind. General manager, cocktail magician, and Fern Bar partner Sam Levy chatted and experimented with cocktails, offering samples of his latest creations to my tipsy friends.
They also have nightly live music and a floral wall-paper-clad room for private parties of up to 30 guests.
Though the décor is definitely inspired by Fern Bars of the past, the restaurant did not have a swinging singles vibe (though it wouldn’t be terrible to meet an attractive stranger there). The bar stools held couples and singles and groups of friends. The tables were full of patrons of every age, including families with children, older folks, and a few couples that seemed to be on first dates. The atmosphere was inviting, cozy, and extremely relaxed, so much so that I wouldn’t mind curling up with a book and a cocktail on one of the lounge sofas and settling in for a few days.
6780 Depot Street #120, Sebastopol
Open Thursday through Monday, 4pm to 12am.