Jeff Segal, Owner of Heart, Explains What the Deal Is With the Mason Jars

Jeff Segal doesn't much care for stemware.
Jeff Segal doesn’t much care for stemware. Photo: Jay Barmann

We here at Grub Street are always looking for an unpretentious place to sip some vino, and we were glad to find that Heart is just that, with an affordable list of obscure European vintages and a concise food menu from Kitchenette. We sat down yesterday with Heart’s down-to-earth, twenty-five-year-old owner Jeff Segal to talk about his vision for the place, and about some upcoming menu changes as the wine and food bar goes into its second month at 24th and Mission.

You came here from New York? What were you doing before?
Segal: I was primarily a writer, working for a finance site, and I’ve always had an interest in wine. I knew I wanted to open a wine bar, and I knew I wanted to do it here, in this neighborhood specifically, and when I found this space I knew it was meant to be.

So, we have to ask: Why the mason jars?
It’s always the first question… Basically, I wanted to strip away all the things that turn me off about wine culture, all the pretension and hundred-dollar Riedel stemware, and create an environment where people could just relax and enjoy the wine for what it is. I’m a wine lover who doesn’t always enjoy the trappings of wine culture. I think I relate better to whiskey drinkers, and I drink everything out of mason jars at home. Just the other day in here I poured a 1990 Ridge into mason jars. The glass doesn’t really change the experience of the wine, it just adds this sort of middle-class aspirational, upwardly mobile sensibility to the whole thing. And it’s more European this way. Anywhere you go in Europe from the finest chateaus to little cafés, especially in Italy and Spain, you’re served wine in little short glasses. And here I wanted to add an American element, to make it more relateable for people, so hence the mason jars.

But you’ve got some stemware there in case someone requests it?

Yeah, I mean, if someone asks, it’s there. And I understand if that’s what someone wants. It’s just not my thing. The other day we had a guy insist on stemware for a seven-dollar glass of wine, and there I’m sort of like, OK, hey, if that’s what it takes for you to enjoy it…

Are you a fan of Terroir? It seems like your palate is sort of similar.
Yeah definitely. I’m friends with the guys over there and I really like what they’re doing with the natural and biodynamic stuff, all the European stuff. I’m just trying to do something a little more casual here, with the music and the vibe and the food.

Tell us about the design.
I have an architect friend in New York, Michael Heming, who did most of it. The tables are all made from a single, 200-year-old cypress tree from outside of Santa Cruz. The floating boards on the ceiling are all reclaimed wood from demolished houses in New Orleans.

Do you curate the art on the walls yourself?
No, I hired a gallery director, Karyn Hunt, and she’s got a great eye. The stuff’s going to be swapped out every two months. We also project movies on the back wall.

How did you hook up with Kitchenette?
I was living here for a while before opening this place, and I got to be a fan of their food. It’s just really flavorful, rustic, high-quality but simple food which was exactly what I wanted to go with the aesthetic here. So I approached them about partnering and they came on board.

And what’s the story with the retail? You guys have a license to sell bottles to take home?
Yeah. You can take bottles home at retail prices, and if you want to drink it here, we do a standard $9 mark-up over retail across the board, which if you want to call it corkage you can, but it’s basically just rent on your seat.

If there were just one or two bottles here that you really wanted everyone to try, what would they be?
Well, it’s tough… I’ll give you three. The first one is an Amontillado sherry. It hasn’t been sweetened at all and it’s perfect to go with food, especially pork. The menu’s about to change and I’m trying specifically to make it more sherry-friendly and to turn more people on to the stuff.

Second, just to prove I’m not a California hater, there’s this 2005 Meritage from Monterey County, Le P’Tit Paysan. The name is French slang for “little redneck,” and it’s just a really solid, Bordeaux-style blend, with equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.

And last, this stuff is the funkiest cider you will ever taste. It’s a 2008 Cidre Brut from France, and basically you’ve got these 100-year-old apple trees, the apples fall on the ground, the cows eat the apples, the cows shit the apples and the apple trees feed on the shit. And you can totally taste the manure funk on this cider. It’s great as an after-dinner drink especially, and totally worth trying.

Heart’s food menu will be changing within about a week, and this weekend they start serving brunch from 11 to 3 p.m. They’ll also be offering ‘Munch’ on Mondays from 11 to 3, which will be a brunch geared especially for restaurant industry folk. See more info at their website.

Earlier: What to Eat at Heart Wine Bar, Open Today in the Mission [Grub Street]

Jeff Segal, Owner of Heart, Explains What the Deal Is With the Mason Jars