The Bay Area bar scene has a little bit of everything, from legendary dives to stylish wine bars and trendy spirits-forward lounges.
But we didn’t know what we were missing until a group of industry vets, each with some of San Francisco’s top restaurants on their resumes, opened an eccentric, neon-lit bar serving savory cocktails to pair with sweet-forward dim sum–style bites in Oakland.
Viridian, which takes the old Plum Bar space on Broadway a few blocks north of the Fox and Paramount theaters, was inspired by further-flung locales.
“The dessert and cocktail concept is really popular overseas,” says William Tsui, the bar’s director, and one of four co-owners, who hails from Lazy Bear and Rich Table. He points to places like Room 4 Dessert in Ubud, Bali and Milse in Auckland, New Zealand; “We wanted to do something for The Town that no one has ever done.”
“We” includes Tsui’s partners in this bright new venture, all Oakland natives—namely ops manager Raymond Gee (Hakkasan); creative director Jeremy Chiu (Shinmai); and GM Alison Kwan (True Laurel, Moongate Lounge).
“We really wanted to do something that continues and perpetuates the culture of Oakland,” says Tsui, and “we wanted to tell the stories of our upbringing through food and drink, and to create a space where we can kick it, a spot where we belong—welcome to thugz mansion.”
Arriving at the brightly painted teal exterior, you’ll see what he means (or you could drop by Viridian’s neon-pink-and-purple website to immediately get the vibe: “Fuck yeah, we’re open!” the homepage reads). From the street, the windows have a reflective metallic wash of iridescent hues; once inside, you’ll need to let your eyes adjust.
The vibrant space was designed by another big name you’ll recognize: Brandon Jew—yes, of Michelin-starred restaurant Mister Jiu’s—and Anna Lee of Soon and Soon Studio, which also designed Mister Jiu’s as well as Moongate Lounge and the just-opened Mamahuhu. The theme: Hong Kong nightlife meets the dramedy film ChungKing Express meets1990s R&B record covers. A series of neon light sculptures custom created by SF-based artist Laura Stevenson are an abstract interpretation of the zig-zagging lights of Hong Kong as seen at night from above.
The offbeat energy continues onto the menu where you’ll find seven or so house cocktails with a savory bent. Options currently include the Tomato Beef, a concoction of Julio Blanco tequila, basil eau de vie, and tomato water; and the Golden Triangle with gin, golden beets, Meyer lemon, quinquina wine, California poppy, and Suze. Devised by Tsui and Kwan, all the drinks favor fresh produce, with ingredients reading like a farmer’s market bounty: tangelos, red berries, blood oranges, grapefruit, and apples.
You may order up at the long black bar, grab a two-top along the wall, or take your group to one of the sofas in the back where you can sprawl out to share dim sum and sweet bites.
Desserts outweigh the savory dishes by about six to four here, so if you’re not a sugar eater, this may not be your place. Executive chef Amanda Hoang (20th Century Cafe, Bird Dog) turns out creative, approachable, and very interesting fare. The flavor of a Thai iced tea is recreated in layers of cake and cream for a twist on tiramisu; sugar-crusted churros are laced with vanilla and accompanied by tequila and lilikoi dipping sauce; and leaky sand buns are ready to burst with runny egg yolk custard filling. If you need a savory bite or two before you go all in on the sugar, dig into salt and pepper chicken nuggets or a fluffy milk bread topped with Japanese chili crisp, garlic, and charred scallions.
Embrace the energy from the sugary sweets and the neon lights and you’re bound to have a buzzy time at Viridian.
A moody color palette and vibrant energy capture the sweets-plus-cocktails theme inside, where the bar is tiled with black and yellow Heath Ceramics tiles.
A neon sculpture by SF artist Laura Stevenson lights the back bar.
Mezcal lovers should dive right into Viridian’s version of a margarita, with El Silencio mezcal, tangelos, yuzu kosho, palm sugar, and Rubino vermouth.
With five pull-apart pieces, the milk bread topped with Japanese chili crisp, garlic, and charred scallions and served with green ginger butter is perfect for sharing.
A twist on the dim sum classic, Viridian’s salt and pepper chicken nuggets are topped with a few leaves of fried basil and are accompanied with three sauces: sweet-and-sour bulldog sauce, Chinese honey mustard, and sweet chili.
The leaky sand buns seem innocent enough from the outside—be ready to get your hands messy with the gooey egg custard filling.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The other bun on the menu is a steamed cha siu bao, plumply filled with chunks of barbecue pork.
Another must-order is this twist on tiramisu which riffs on the flavors of Thai tea with mascarpone, caramelized condensed milk, and roasted peanuts.
One last traditional dim sum: rum po tat, aka egg custard tarts. The Viridian version has layer upon layer of flaky crust and is packed with a hint of spiced rum, cinnamon, and lemon zest in the custard filling.
Looking for something chilled? The blood orange and vanilla semifreddo with a pistachio crumble will hit the spot.
// Viridian, 2216 Broadway (Oakland), viridianbar.com
This post was originally written and photographed by me for 7×7 and can be viewed here.
Looking for another creative bar concept? Check the bubbles and caviar delights at Sausalito’s The Bump Bar.