Shielded from the blazing sun by an umbrella and seated against a backdrop of red geraniums, Karen Buchanan pulled down her mask and sipped a lime and ginger mocktail at Richmond’s newly opened Factory Bar.
“I’ve been waiting for this for months,” said Buchanan, a Richmond resident and Richmond Museum of History board member who was attending a soft opening at the bar on San Pablo Avenue that officially opened Aug. 7.
The culmination of four years of work by owners Tom Lyons, Michelle Guest and Marcus Hibser, the bar was set to open in March before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and regional shelter-in-place orders took effect.
The bar did finally open this month in conformance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
“We retooled to put the emphasis on our outdoor space,” said Lyons, a Richmond resident who is engaged to Guest.
In just five months, the owners created a mini-garden resplendent with plants including bright red Cherries Jubilee and fragrant yellow Angel’s Trumpet flowers, blending an existing patio with the bar’s parking lot.
“There’s a slew of regulations, and sometimes they contradict each other, so we went with the most restrictive,” Hibser said.
Factory Bar patrons are only allowed to use the outdoor patio, must sit 6 feet apart and must wear masks unless they are eating or drinking. They must make reservations in advance and are only allowed to stay for 90 minutes.
Sitting at one of the outdoor tables with a friend, Senami Randolph of Oakland said, “The ownership has done an excellent job with social distancing.”
Due to current ABC regulations, at present, customers also must order food along with their drinks. The bar is currently offering hummus and charcuterie plates from local partner restaurants.
Lyons and Guest are Richmond residents who came up with the idea for the bar with Hibser following a Rosie the Riveter rally in 2016. The August event, a Richmond staple, is one of many across the country celebrating female shipyard workers in World War II.
“All the cocktails are named after elements of Richmond history,” Lyons said.
The Whirley Crane evokes a piece of equipment used at the Richmond shipyards. The drink combines Rayu Mezcal Espadin, Ancho Reyes Licor, lime, hibiscus/rose syrup and black salt.
The menu also offers beer, wine and spirits including gin, vodka and tequila.
“We’ve gone out of our way to ensure the beers on tap are local beers,” Lyons said. Some of the trio’s partners include Richmond’s East Brother Brewery and Origin Brewery, as well as Falcon Spirits.
Also, “We are making all our coffee cocktails based off Catahoula Coffee,” Lyons said, referring to the popular coffeehouse located just a few blocks away on San Pablo Avenue.
The Factory also encourages patrons to grab a taco at next-door Tacos El Tucan, another new enterprise that has made quite a splash.
“We’re trying to keep it as much in the neighborhood as possible,” Lyons said.
At the soft opening, patrons basked in the sunlight flooding the 2,200-square-foot outdoor patio with its wooden tables handmade by the owners.
“We’ve needed a neighborhood bar in this area for years,” said Ellen Seskin, who has lived in Richmond for decades.
Across the patio, Felix Hunziker, a former Richmond police commissioner, waved to Seskin.
“It’s wonderful to have a neighborhood gathering space serving high-caliber cocktails and partnering with other local businesses,” Hunziker said.
Lyons said, “Three years ago, when we presented our proposal to the Richmond Planning Commission, we said our business model was to build a place for community. Now it’s even more so.
“More than ever, people need to meet their friends at a responsible place where they can come and socialize,” he added.
Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, who participated in the bar’s 2019 groundbreaking, said via text, “Every neighborhood deserves its own watering hole. It’s an urban quality of life issue. I’m just sorry COVID-19 is keeping it from opening in its full glory.”