SAN FRANCISCO — When you think, “mall food” what comes to mind? Maybe it’s neon yellow lemonade or a pretzel dog or a Cinnabon eaten hastily before scuttling into Spencer’s Gifts to buy a black light poster for your room.
Certainly you don’t think “craft beer and cocktails” when you think of malls; but as a recent guest of Tap (415), I think you should seriously reconsider.
Tap (415) is a gastropub located “under the dome” of the Westfield San Francisco Centre. One has only to take escalator after spiraled escalator up to the level before the movie theater to get there, but once inside, you’ll forget you’re at a mall at all.
This seat-yourself joint lets you belly up to the (artfully pre-cup ring stained) bar and offers a bevy of cocktails, wine, and of course beer. One of the brains behind this operation is manager Nathan Sheeran, a long time enthusiast of the craft beer scene on a national level and a veteran of 25 Lusk. One of the lessons from the industry Sheeran says he brought to this new eatery and bar is “get them in with style then show them the substance.” Tap (415) has both in spades.
The ambiance is dark and trendy, but not pretentious. ’80s and ’90s jams played (truth be told I was Rick Rolled immediately) and Sheeran occasionally throws some Motown in the mix, because “only outward racists don’t like Motown”. The menu ranges from happy hour bites, like sliders and a truly exceptional oyster shooter, to fancier items like charcuterie or steak. Sheeran calls this spot “fast casual” (before promptly admitting that he hates that term) and says that the clientele is a nice mixture of mall workers, students and tourists, as well as those looking for a nice night out.
The bar is what really wows. Sheeran says that initially he dabbled in serving cocktails on tap but found the technology available didn’t match his ambition. Instead, Tap (415) serves a creative list of cocktails made the old-fashioned way. There is no sign of hoity-toity molecular gastronomy here – no artisanal foams or bacon inserted where it shouldn’t be – but instead cocktails made with local fruits, veggies, and herbs in unique combinations. There are also boozy milkshakes, which are a thing I think most adults could use more than they’d like to admit.
And now the real deciding factor: the beer. Sheerhan is a big believer in “the gateway concept” meaning he wants people to come here and discover their new favorite brew. There is not a trace of “Big Beer” anywhere at Tap (415). This is unusual for lots of bars, especially those with a large tourist demographic, seeing as Joe Sixpack who’s in town for a convention would usually feel more comfortable in a bar when he could knock back a Bud or two. But Sheeran has a real interest in expanding Joe’s horizons. “I’ll ask what your favorite beer is and give you a sample or two of something similar and the throw in a long shot just to mess with you,” he says.
The bar consists of 12 taps, a good mix of local brews, a rotating new selection, and European ones. As a sort of bar calling card Sheeran says that there will always be at least one beer by Belgian brewery Rodenbach on tap. Sheeran calls the Grand Cru currently on tap “the best sour ale out there”.
What really makes this joint special, mall or no mall, is the attention to detail. During our interview Sheeran’s head was constantly swiveling, his eyes scanning the bar. He got up several times to personally show customers to their seats and chat with a server about the minutia of their favorite beer. The staff themselves are equally attentive and during my stay I watched a bar tender take a strawful of a perfectly beautiful full cocktail, shake her head in dismay and start completely from scratch, a gesture I have never seen anywhere else in this city. Tap (415) maintains the perfect balance between classy and unpretentious. This is a perfect spot for a post movie drink, a work dinner, or something to tide you over before a long BART ride. Personally I think you should tell your date to meet you at the mall for dinner. As Sheeran always says “there is no right or wrong answer in the world of booze”.