Author: Bayley McMillan
Asiento, a tapas bar on the corner of 21st and Bryant—two residential streets in the heart of the Mission—is where the neighborhood’s locals come together for a craft cocktail at happy hour, an eclectic meal at sunset, and a dance into the night. The exterior of this expansive bar is decorated with a gigantic mural of the cosmos. Though left over from a previous establishment, the possibilities of your experience at Asiento are just as endless as its paint job indicates. Here you can order tapas classics like gambas (sautéed shrimp) as well as a complimentary Red Vines—used as straws because Asiento has been ocean friendly and straw free since opening six and a half years ago—from behind the bar. You can dance to Justin Bieber before 8pm (as I watched middle-aged doctors do one very happy hour) and play a wide array of board games for as long as you like. Asiento hosts both reggaeton DJs and parties for AA members. It takes community resources—food, drink, and space—and encourages each customer do with them exactly what they want.
Debi Cohn—a neighbor of the bar herself—lives across the street and crafted Asiento for her community. When I sit down to talk with her at its communal table by the window one evening, she is greeted again and again by its regulars. Today, when most of the bars you want to hang out at are a Lyft ride away, Asiento instead fosters a customer base from the surrounding blocks. Debi has taken her skills as a lifelong restaurateur and given her community a place to gather and to share.
What inspired you to open a bar instead of a restaurant?
I like going to bars, I like sitting at the bar, I like bartenders. I like having a relationship that is location based and I wanted to have location based relationships with my guests. I’m constantly introducing people: “Oh you're neighbors, did you know that you both do this kind of work, that you both have this kind of interest?” And at a bar we can have entertainment. People say that they come to Asiento and on any given night it could be Hip Hop, it could be Latin, it could be Jazz, it could be Techno. I do have a schedule on my website, but I always leave Saturday nights open for first come, first served to reserve the DJ booth. Then it’s the guests who host their own party.
What is your favorite thing on the menu?
We’re known for our Juicy burger—100% beef with that umami flavor served on an English muffin—and our veggie burger. Its kabocha squash, butternut squash, black rice, some pine nut romesco, guacamole, and some spinach. It’s vegan actually—I love the vegetarian and vegan items. I’m a recovering vegetarian.
What does the Mission mean to you?
There’s so much positive energy here even with the experience of watching it change. There are so many people that want to work together to keep the culture that made it so interesting to be a part of San Francisco in the first place. We need people that have a more open schedule and we need people to actually have time to be friends with their neighbors. You need eyes on the street during the day because that’s what creates the neighborhood. Ultimately, the Mission is anticipation, excitement, collaboration, energy, love.
Why the name Asiento?
Before opening the bar I flew to Spain for a vacation and to search for recipes. When I was flying, I saw the sign that says “life vest under su a siento.” Under your seat. And I decided my bar would be a neighborhood seat, your seat. After I came back, I had hip surgery, and my husband and I were going to Schmidt’s for dinner. There was this awesome chair on the sidewalk; I knew this chair had a story. My husband said “I am not carrying this for you. You don’t need any more street projects to fix up” And I said fine, if it’s still here after dinner I’m carrying it back. And I carried it back right after hip surgery. And it hurt, but I knew for sure it was going to be Asiento. Now that chair holds our door open every night.