Co-owners Matt Meyer and Daniel Paez have set the bar pretty damn high
On a recent Friday night at Low Bar, I was reminded of my 30-year-old self for a couple of hours. At that age, I and a group of my friends would traipse around the Mission, going from bar to party to bar, pursuing the night and various incarnations of each other. The people inside Low Bar, and the place itself, are tidier than the dive bars we strode in and out of before we stumbled back home to our shared flats. But the owners Matt Meyer and Daniel Paez have bottled up that same spirit of possibility. It’s busy yet comfortable in the way a neighborhood bar is, a place where ordering another round is all about engaging with pals.
The Low Bar staff was entirely welcoming and attentive, even though my friend and I skewed the average age upwards by several percentage points. This winter, my main pursuit has been to don a pair of pajamas as soon as dusk hits before conking out shortly thereafter. We ate and drank there happily, and at a leisurely pace, in the quieter back room where movie images flickered on the wall behind us. Meyer and Paez spoke with me about their approach to hiring and training their very nice employees.
“Every time we hire, we want to make sure we’re finding really passionate, well-trained and dynamic people to coexist and to strengthen the team,” Paez began. “Even though we’re called ‘Low Bar,’ we do have an emphasis on how to treat guests and to curate the experience.” Going out is more than just eating good food and drinking great cocktails. “You go for an entire experience, and we’re the facilitators with that responsibility,” he concluded.
Meyer added that they pride themselves on being communicative with their staff. They hold regular meetings where anyone can chime in with ideas. “Nobody feels like they’re not allowed to speak up with an idea or a problem,” he said. “There’s no doubt that we’re a very casual space, but that doesn’t mean we’re not professional.”
The work structure at Low Bar is divided in two between them. Meyer creates the food menu, Paez the cocktails. When it comes to drinks, Paez’s mission statement is to keep it simple. “If you’re going to showcase something, make it taste like those things, and don’t have 30 ingredients,” he said.
Deadbeat Summer ($14) is a favorite on the list of house cocktails. “It’s got mezcal, tequila, morita and chipotle chilis in a spiced grapefruit cordial, along with cumin,” Paez explained. “People are intrigued by it, and they keep sipping it to figure out what’s going on there,” he said. “It’s a subtle way to introduce flavors and to challenge people’s perception of what works together traditionally.”
Meyer and Paez identify as Chicanos. Meyer expanded on what the term means for people of Mexican descent who were born and raised in the United States. “Historically, there’s been a third culture formed around Mexican American communities in the U.S.,” he said. “I grew up in these beautiful Chicano neighborhoods and communities.”
Meyer’s parents are from northern Mexico. They immigrated to Southern California in the 1970s, and he grew up there. While his cooking is informed by that particular region of Mexico, the chef doesn’t limit himself to only northern influences. “It’s fun to highlight certain regions, because Mexico’s culinary life is diverse and amazing,” Meyer said.
His adobo BBQ ribs ($29) shouldn’t be missed. When we didn’t finish the entire massive plate of them, our server asked if they were too spicy. They were perfectly spiced. Meyer explained that the warmth and depth we tasted, however, wasn’t in the sauce but in his curing mix. His not-so-secret ingredient is cinnamon, but there’s also a combination of rice vinegar, ketchup and toasted peppers. “It feels familiar and homey, but it’s also bright and exciting,” he said.
Before the ribs arrived, we started with two crispy rolled tacos ($12) and an order of fried sunchokes ($13). The rolled tacos are filled with a smoked russet potato and grilled scallions, but the lemony cabbage slaw balanced out the dish with fresh, acidic flavors. The sunchokes went down creamy and, fresh from the deep fryer, still hot on the tongue. Low Bar’s plates are hearty and piled high. I could have done with less meat and some of that lemony slaw on the quesabirria tacos ($16), but that’s because they appeared on the table in conjunction with a tower of those tasty BBQ ribs.
Low Bar, open every day except Tuesday, kitchen serves food until 10pm. 2300 Webster St., Oakland. [email protected]. lowbaroakland.com.