Walk into Bouli Bar at 11:45am on an ordinary Wednesday, and you’ll see a restaurant just waking up. It is quiet, calm, and friendly. Neutral colors, stained wood, and brass accents set a West Elm-like tone in the dining room. The cooks are chatting casually in front of the wood oven, servers are huddled around the maitre d’ stand, and the few diners already seated are deep in conversation. Snagging an empty seat sans reservation is a snap.
A short 20 minutes later, and the scene is transformed. The once serene dining room is now jam-packed with hungry business-folk. Sitting at the corner of a long communal table at first felt inclusive and casual, but it is now clear that this is the worst seat in the house. Waiters spill water, dislodge carefully placed silverware, and knock iPhones off the table without apology. The once comfortable, wide-seated chairs now feel cramped when surrounded by clusters of people; it is a task to wiggle out in order to use the restroom.
Service turns gruff, and it quickly becomes obvious that the house is trying to turn tables as fast as possible. The smart diners who have made reservations and dressed to the nines are seated at smaller, personal tables, and they seem to get better service. The other flustered faces at the communal tables indicate that they notice this discrepancy, too.
Bouli Bar is a brand-new offshoot of longtime Ferry Building restaurant Boulette’s Larder, which opened in 2004. Owners Amaryll Schwertner and Lori Regis specialize in preparing ingredient-driven menus with Middle Eastern accents in a warm, intimate environment. In addition to the restaurant, the two women curate a small store (or larder) of high-end pantry items used in their kitchen, making it possible for ambitious home cooks to replicate the flavors they ate at Boulette’s.
Given the constraints of the space, Boulette’s had historically just been open for breakfast, brunch, and lunch, with occasional private dinners. But last fall, Schwertner and Regis announced that they would be acquiring the Culinare space next-door in order to open Bouli Bar. They closed down the restaurant this spring to overhaul the space and build out their new restaurant, complete with a sleek wood-fired hearth situated in between the two restaurants. Bouli Bar opened its doors in July, and Boulette’s just re-opened last month for brunch service.