What’s In a Name?
Drake’s Barn Offers Unique Gathering Place for Food and Drink
By Greg Sabin
There are these things called restaurants. We are pretty familiar with them. They typically have four walls, maybe an order counter, a smattering of tables and booths, and a kitchen. When we walk into one, we recognize it immediately for what it is and have no problem identifying the major components. There also are bars where the primary focus is on drink. Food is secondary, if present at all. Again, we know it when we see it, from barstools to well racks, from highballs to high-tops.
There are these things called restaurants. We are pretty familiar with them. They typically have four walls, maybe an order counter, a smattering of tables and booths, and a kitchen. When we walk into one, we recognize it immediately for what it is and have no problem identifying the major components. There also are bars where the primary focus is on drink. Food is secondary, if present at all. Again, we know it when we see it, from barstools to well racks, from highballs to high-tops. What, then, is Drake’s BARN? Is there food? Yes. Quite good food, actually. Both a full pizza-focused restaurant and a food truck dishing out tri-tip. So is it a restaurant? Not quite. Is there drink? Yes, both inside and out, featuring dozens of taps, wine and cocktails. But while there is a bar at which to sit, no one would sit there and call the Barn a bar. Let’s dig deeper. If you are not familiar with Drake’s Brewing Co., you should be. Started in 1989 in San Leandro, Drake’s has been a major player in Northern California brewing for a few decades. The beers are hugely popular and bar-setting for West Coast styles.
Drake’s expanded beyond just its own barrel room in 2015 when it opened the Dealership in downtown Oakland. The converted auto dealership was creatively turned into a restaurant and beer garden, and quickly gave the Drake’s team a reputation as operators of creative spaces. Speaking of creative spaces … the Barn, on the banks of the Sacramento River in West Sacramento, was a private/public endeavor completed in 2017.
It’s an architecturally stunning structure (you would not call it a “building” exactly). Covered in cedar shingles and rising effortlessly from the woods and meadows surrounding it, the Barn looks nothing like a restaurant and nothing like a brewery. In fact, it looks nothing like anything you have seen. The grounds of the Barn are substantial, featuring a seating area with fire pits, an outdoor bar, outdoor game area and large meadow with a performance stage at one end. It’s an impressive spread.
Also interesting to note is that the partnership between the city of West Sacramento and Drake’s did not come around until after the structure was finished. The Barn was built as a gathering place from the beginning, not as a specific structure for a specific resident. With Drake’s history of using creative spaces, taking over the Barn seemed like a positive partnership. And, from firsthand experience, that partnership is both wonderful to observe and only has room to grow. The northern end of the Barn is now taken up with PizzaSmith, a pizza and small-bites restaurant led by local chef Bryan Widener. You might recognize Widener from his dearly departed doughnut shop called Doughbot. And his knowledge of the dough definitely comes in handy when turning out high-quality pies. Widener told me that the pizza he is aiming for is “New Haven style,” further influenced by his California roots. For Californians who are not aware that the Connecticut town has a style of pizza all its own, you are not alone. The cracker-crust, pecorino-cheese-heavy pies of New Haven are fantastic—some consider them the best in the U.S. obvious that Widener puts a lot of thought into his menu and his pies. from delicate to face-meltingly spicy, his pizzas are beautifully turned and fantastically paired with Drake’s brews. The small plates, from a complex house-made hummus to a gorgeous grain salad, show clever use of seasonal ingredients along with a curious eye for eclectic styles. There is a good handful of indoor seating, with an equal number of shaded tables under the swooping cover of the shingled structure.
A dozen yards or so away, a large exterior bar serves more than 20 handles of beer and allows the drinker to order treats from the YO?LO! food truck, which is permanently on site but only firing up tri-tip and sides on the weekends for now. So what is Drake’s BARN you ask? It’s an experience. It’s a gathering place. It’s a grand idea. It’s lovely space in which to while away a spring evening or summer’s day. It’s a place to catch a concert. In short, it’s a place to eat, drink and be merry. And what more, after all, can you ask for?