Berber, a North African restaurant and theater, opens in Russian Hill

To truly understand the Berber restaurant and dinner club, says co-founder Tony Garnicki, you have to sit at a table in the dining room as the lights go out, forks and spoons are placed next to it. empty plates containing tagine and couscous, and an aerialist in the middle of the room performs acrobatics inspired by Cirque du Soleil.

Berber is a North African restaurant and dinner club opening on Saturday, December 15 in the Russian Hill district of San Francisco. The name of the company is a term, once considered pejorative, that refers to the Amazigh people (which translates to free men) of North Africa. The 4000-seat auditorium is located at 1516 Broadway.

The concept, in many ways, represents the first of its kind to exist in the city.

“San Francisco is an international city. The guests here want to have adventures and new experiences, ”said Garnicki. “There are several areas, including a bar area for those who wish to have a cocktail and order something à la carte. The back dining room will be where the entertainment takes place for a complete experience.

The restaurant is a joint venture between Garnicki and Borhen Hummami (Restaurant Marrakech, Café Chanta).

Garnicki said Berber, for some, will be an educational space. The performers – aerialists, belly dancers, singers, DJs and various musicians – have North African origins, which means that every night people will be exposed to various aspects of North African culture. The dining room will have artwork from the same region, including a more than 100-year-old door imported from Morocco.

Outside of the shows, Berber is an upscale restaurant. The prix fixe menu of $ 85 will consist of five courses, the contents of which will have been influenced by flavors common in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia and Western Sahara. (Drinks, taxes, and tips are not included.) While reservations are available throughout the evening, there is one 7:30 am show per night.

Garnicki first hired a Tunisian chef to run Berber cuisine. But the leader was unable to come to the United States following President Donald Trump’s travel ban earlier this year. Today, Nick Balla, formerly of Duna and Bar Tartine, is in charge of the kitchen. The San Francisco chef was putting the finishing touches on the Berber menu on Friday afternoon.

The Berber idea came to Parisien Garnicki after a trip to Tunisia. It was there that he experienced communal meals and the sense of spectacle that can be associated with it, he said. It was something he wanted to recreate in the Bay Area. And maybe beyond.

“I got to see Berbers in many different cities across the country bringing this same experience. Places like Miami, New York, Los Angeles – Berber might one day be there too. “

San Francisco is no stranger to dinner theater venues. Places like Teatro ZinZanni at Pierre 29 and Doc’s Lab in North Beach have come and gone, leaving followers in their wake. Yet the business model remains one of the riskiest types to open in the Bay Area, as staff shortages remain the norm, and out of control rent increases and operating costs appear to only get worse. .

“There are definitely certain financial obligations that can make a business like this difficult,” Garnicki said. “From a restaurant operation point of view, you have existing elements. You have food and the bar. You deal with waiters and staff. Now you add artists here which are a whole different category.

Berber: 1516 Broadway, near Polk; Reservations available via

Justin Phillips is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @JustMrPhillips

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