Leave the confines of the outside for a lovely and dark Dalva drinking experience

Anna Latino/Special to the S.F. ExaminerDouglas Stephens of Dalva takes pride in his bar’s quality ingredients — even the soda in the Jack and Coke is the Mexican variety

This Mission district spot has received a lot of attention for The Hideout, the “bar within a bar” nestled in its backroom, but there is plenty of action up front at the main bar, where Douglas Stephens plies his trade. He got his start as a bar back at Vertigo in the Tenderloin roughly 10 years ago. When he’s not behind the bar, Stephens enjoys working on his 1968 Chevy El Camino, which has a Darth Vader bobblehead figure sitting atop the gearshift. Customers may notice that Stephens has the symbol of the “Star Wars” Rebel Alliance tattooed on his right hand, and his geek cred is rounded out by his love for video games and experience working as a game tester for Electronic Arts and Sega in the 1990s. Stephens likens Dalva’s backroom to a speakeasy, but that description really applies to the entire bar. Duck into Dalva on a sunny day and you won’t notice the stuffed owl wearing sunglasses until your eyes adjust to the dim light. The main source of illumination is a series of candles in red glass enclosures, and they’re just bright enough to make the red walls and large Dali-esque clock painting visible.

How is bartending at Dalva different from other jobs you’ve had?

The family that owns Dalva are awesome people, and they really take care of us. [Owner Erik Reichborn-Kjennerud] is honestly one of the most caring and understanding bosses I’ve ever worked for.

Working at Arrow Bar/The Matador on Sixth Street, did you have any unusual experiences?

I had a machete swung at me one time. On another occasion, there was this homeless guy who’s kind of famous, because he always goes around wearing a helmet and a bathrobe and it makes him look kind of like a Jedi. Anyway, he got in a fight across the street from my bar one night, and somehow a broomstick wound up getting broken in the process.

What’s this whole “bar within a bar” thing all about?

We have two different atmospheres. It’s divey in front, but with good cocktails. In back, you’ll find a speakeasy-style bar with lots of high-end, original cocktails and independent liqueurs, which you can’t find elsewhere.

The area of 16th and Valencia streets has come to represent a real intersection of San Francisco’s various subcultures. Is that reflected in Dalva’s crowd?

We get people in their late 20s and early 30s, art students, even folks from the Marina who’ve heard about the backroom. It’s a smorgasbord; everyone’s welcome.

There’s been some talk lately about allowing bars to stay open until 4 a.m. How do you feel about that?

It would give me two more hours to make money, but I don’t think it will ever happen. I’m a night person, though, so I wouldn’t mind. I get that from my mother. When I was growing up, she was an R.N. and always worked night shifts.

You seem to take a lot of pride in Dalva. What else should people know about your bar?

There is no corn syrup anywhere on the premises! If you order a Jack and Coke, we make it with real Mexican Coca-Cola, containing real sugar!

Aperol Collins

  • 1 oz. Aperol
  • 1 oz. gin
  • 1 oz. lemon juice
  • ½ oz. simple syrup
  • Shake, double-strain and pour over ice into a Collins glass. Add soda water and garnish with a lemon twist.

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