David Cohen and Verant group team up once again for new restaurant in old Ono Sushi Hillcrest location
By Margie M. Palmer | SDUN Reporter
Those who frequent Hillcrest’s restaurant corridor on University Avenue have likely noticed the change: 1236 University Ave. is no longer home to 15-year resident Ono Sushi. The good news is that the space has already been acquired by new owners, who said their brainchild, Uptown Tavern, will soon be open for business.
West Coast Tavern co-owner David Cohen has once again partnered with Verant Group founders Mark Cirillo, Joe Vaught and Eric Lingenfelder for the new tavern, and the foursome said they anticipate their newest venture will add to Hillcrest’s already unique flavor.
Lingenfelder said he and his partners – who in addition to co-owning West Coast Tavern with Cohen also run True North Tavern, Barleymash and Tavern at the Beach, among others – vision the Hillcrest restaurant as becoming a true neighborhood bar and grill.
“We’ve been looking for a space in Hillcrest for about two and a half years,” he said. “When the Ono Sushi building came up available, we saw this as a premier location right there on University Avenue. The size and the location fit well with what we wanted to do.”
What most people do not realize, Cohen said, is the building space is about four times larger than what patrons may have believed.
“There is so much more to the property than the interior space,” Cohen said. “There is a large back patio, a couple back houses and an upper back house. The property is about 7,000 square feet in total. It really is incredible.”
Most of Uptown Tavern’s seating will be outdoors, and those wishing to dine privately can reserve the back houses, Cohen said. “Those will be converted to private dining areas. There’s a lot of space which could be utilized for weddings, rehearsal dinners or other events,” he said.
Uptown Tavern’s menu will consist of “progressive bar fare,” Lingenfelder said, and the venue will feature 20 beers on tap as well as wine and spirits.
“It will have the type of food you can get at some of the other taverns [we run],” he said. “You can think of it as taking the West Coast menu and putting another twist on it. There will be a few small plates, sharable items and a few staple items as well.”
The group intends to install a myriad of flat-screen televisions for the interior, which Lingenfelder said he hopes will bring repeat customers. “If there is an event or sports game on, we’ll be showing it,” Lingenfelder said. “It’ll be a fun, comfortable environment where people can come two or three days a week and have a drink in a laid-back place.”
Cohen said patrons can expect to see a lot more light, a focus on outdoor seating and the transformation of Ono Sushi’s front-and-center sushi bar into a liquor bar.
“Ono had a lot of dark colors and dark wood in its interior,” he said. “We’re going to bring a lot more daylight in. It’s going to be a big change over what [the previous owners] had.”
Uptown Tavern is scheduled to open the second week in July.