News is arriving out of Berkeley that in addition to its own eventual reopening, Chez Panisse is planning another opening later this year in the next-door bar space that for over two decades has been a beloved tapas restaurant and cocktail spot.
Chez Panisse and its upstairs cafe remain closed, after doing only takeout and hosting a farmers market for much of the pandemic. Back in September, after teasing a big reopening for months, owner Alice Waters announced the decision to refrain from reopening the dining rooms, despite the waning Delta surge, until early 2022 — and a prescient decision that turned out to be, given the Omicron surge.
On Instagram recently the restaurant says they have been "quietly busy getting the building dressed up and will offer a new date when it’s safe to eat indoors again," and "This week, it still feels too hard to guess when that will be; but when the time comes, we will be ready."
But when Chez Panisse emerges from its long slumber, there will be an expansion project happening next door as well — a new bar and all-day restaurant in the street-facing space that for 24 years has been home to tapas bar César.
As Berkeleyside reports, the space at 1515 Shattuck has been leased to Chez Panisse (the address of which is 1517 Shattuck) since before César served its first paella in 1998. And César, itself a Bay Area pioneer in introducing many in the Bay Area to Spanish cuisine and tapas specifically (Russian Hill's Zarzuela and a few others beat them to it by a few years), has long had close ties to its neighbor and landlord. As Berkeleyside notes, two co-founders of César, Richard Mazzera, Dennis Lapuyade, spent years working at Chez Panisse, and the third c0-founder is Waters' ex-husband Stephen Singer, the father of daughter Fanny Singer. Even the name César comes from the same film world that Chez Panisse and Fanny got their names from, Marcel Pagnol's Marseille Trilogy — Fanny, César, and Honoré Panisse are all characters in the 1930s film series set in Provence.
So, fans of César have been up in arms that Chez Panisse wants to end their sublease agreement after all this time — with some vocalizing their dismay on Twitter. And when a restaurant has been someplace for nearly 24 years and then gets suddenly evicted, one can understand that many in the area have gotten attached and might be upset.
It remains possible that the restaurant could simply move elsewhere — and there remains a sister location with a slightly different menu, Bar César, on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland that was also opened by co-founder Mazzera back in 2006. (Mazzera passed away in 2019.) And it also remains possible that Chez Panisse and its board may decide not to force César out.
The restaurant has been mum about its specific plans, but Berkeleyside has word that they intend to open a place with a "welcoming bar" — there is no real bar to speak of at Chez Panisse Cafe or the downstairs restaurant — that will also serve breakfast and lunch. They have mentioned wanting to keep the staff of César employed when the place reopens — if they still want to work there by then. And they reportedly want to bring the new restaurant/bar in line with Chez Panisse's own ethos when it comes to the sourcing of all its products.
There's likely more at play here with the politics and the longstanding relationships behind the scenes that we can't know. Suffice it to say that César has been warning regulars since early last year that the restaurant's days were numbered — and they already got a one-year sublease extension from Chez Panisse, which expires this July.
Photo: Amy D./Yelp