Missing the days when you could jet across the world to explore another country without worrying about a pandemic? Traveler is an ambitious new bar that opened on the ground floor of 25 Lusk on Tuesday, bringing that globe-trotting experience to San Francisco. Every six months, the bar’s decor and menu will rotate to spotlight a different part of the world. 

First stop? Mexico.

“Mexico was a no-brainer for me because it’s so close,” said Elmer Mejicanos, the bar director behind North Beach’s Red Window who dreamed up the Traveler concept in collaboration with 25 Lusk chef Matthew Dolan and bar manager Natalie Lichtman. “We have everything so available, and because it’s the first time we do this concept, I wanted something close to us.”

But this doesn’t mean Traveler is morphing into a margarita bar for the next six months. 

Traveler's "A Clear Classic" cocktail, made with tequila, mezcal, clear grapefruit and lime, bubbles and salt. 

Traveler’s “A Clear Classic” cocktail, made with tequila, mezcal, clear grapefruit and lime, bubbles and salt. 

Courtesy of Anne-Claire Thieulon

“I think that’s just a perception in America, that a Mexican bar has to be margaritas. … In our case we decided to peel away from that,” said Mejicanos. “We do have a cocktail with mezcal, we do have a cocktail with tequila, but we use all different spirits that they use in Mexico. A lot of people don’t know that Mexico actually drank more rum at some point than tequila.”

One cocktail on the menu is a unique take on a paloma where each ingredient has been clarified, turning the drink as clear as a glass of water. Traveler also serves a variety of seasonal aguas frescas, with flavors as varied as pluot and jalapeno or hibiscus, pineapple and epazote (which come either spiked with spirits or nonalcoholic).

But the most labor-intensive drink on the menu is the tepache, a pineapple drink dating back to pre-Columbian Mexico that takes three days to ferment. 

“It becomes effervescent and slightly funky, but it builds to this really beautiful texture and flavor,” explained Mejicanos. The resulting drink does not contain much alcohol, so they spike theirs with rum.

Traveler, a new bar on the ground floor of restaurant 25 Lusk, plans to rotate its menu and decor every six months to highlight a different country.

Traveler, a new bar on the ground floor of restaurant 25 Lusk, plans to rotate its menu and decor every six months to highlight a different country.

Courtesy of Anne-Claire Thieulon

The food menu is a selection of street food from Oaxaca to the Yucatán, including a tlayuda topped with black bean, elote and queso, and cochinita pibil tacos. They’re doing it in an authentic way, says chef Dolan — making tortillas and salsa fresh every day. But mostly, the food is there to highlight the artistry of the cocktails. 

“If I could win best supporting actor, that’s a win,” said Dolan of the culinary program. “… It’s all about beautiful cocktails made by these beautiful human beings, but you should eat something so you don’t get super drunk. And that’s where I come in.”

To create the menu, chef Dolan tapped Jesus Fernando Ake Chan and Eutimio Avila, two chefs from Mexico on his 25 Lusk team, to take the lead. Each time Traveler rotates to a new location, the team plans to partner up with a different chef who hails from that country.  

Elote at Traveler, a new bar on the ground floor of restaurant 25 Lusk in San Francisco.

Elote at Traveler, a new bar on the ground floor of restaurant 25 Lusk in San Francisco.

Courtesy of Anne-Claire Thieulon

“We only showcase flavors and styles and cooking techniques and culture from the country,” said Mejicanos. “We want to make sure we’re doing it in a respectful way, so we’re not too gimmicky about anything.” 

Next stop on Traveler’s globe trot is most likely going to be somewhere in Asia, according to Mejicanos. But for the next six months, sipping tepache in the warm-toned, plant-filled lounge sounds pretty enticing.

Traveler at 25 Lusk, at 25 Lusk St. in San Francisco, is open Tuesday to Thursday, 5-10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m.-midnight. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Here’s a curated look at other restaurants that opened in August across the Bay Area:

Abacá

An exciting new California-Filipino restaurant has found a home at the Kimpton Alton Hotel in Fisherman’s Wharf. The menu at Abacá features layered sisig fried rice, an adobo-glazed yuba skin barbecue skewer and squash dumplings. Read more from Eater.

Joyride Pizza


Both the Valencia Street and the Yerba Buena Garden locations of Samovar Tea House Cafe have been replaced by a new Detroit-style pizza restaurant called Joyride Pizza, according to Eater

Lulu

A new restaurant from Palestinian American chef Mona Leena of pop-up Mana’eesh Lady opened in Berkeley in August. Lulu offers a weekend mezze brunch, as well as weekday offerings such as a breakfast sandwich with fried egg, brown butter labneh and caramelized tomato, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. (SFGATE and the San Francisco Chronicle are both owned by Hearst but operate independently of one another.)

Chezchez

Chezchez, the newest bar from the Trick Dog team, opened in mid-August with a menu of tinned fish and bubbly aperitifs, according to Eater.

Bay Biryanis

A new Indian restaurant that serves 27 different kinds of biryani opened in downtown Mountain View this month, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.