Close your eyes and imagine an intimate, small, cozy neighborhood bar. Maybe you're in a seaside Spanish town, or perhaps you've found yourself somewhere in the middle of rural Italy on a once-in-a-lifetime grand tour of Europe. The bartender greets you warmly as you step through the door and belly up to the bar. They slide you a cocktail over a sleek stone countertop; the lighting is low, and you sip peacefully as the collective murmur of other patrons and the eclectic playlist fills your ears. You wonder about the bar's past—how long it's been here, who opened it, who's sat in the same spot you have, what they drank.
It's the perfect place to lose track of time as you find yourself falling into a discussion with the stranger sitting next to you. As you pay your tab and bid both the bartender and your new friend farewell, you exit out into the brick-lined alley under the night sky in the city and make your way back to your private, luxury bed and breakfast that's merely a few steps from the bar. You head up to bed and think about the lovely evening you just had inside one of the best bars you've ever visited.
Now, open your eyes and train them on the cerulean-faced Italianate building just north of 12th on Sycamore Street in Pendleton. There you'll find Saeso—the exact bar in the above scenario.
Saeso is Cincinnati's latest concept from the visionary design team of Michael Guilfoil and Christy Wulfson (Guilfoil & Wulfson). If you've never heard of Saeso, that's by design; GW opened it in October without fanfare.
"We wanted Saeso to feel like a little neighborhood bar that's always been here," says Guilfoil. Together, they managed the entirety of the design process while working with architect Alex Gormley of Drawing Dept to turn the 150-year-old building into a place where visitors can feel like they're in an exotic locale without leaving Cincinnati.
Additionally, they worked with a handful of talented contractors who helped realize their vision amid a growing pandemic, ultimately creating a bar that has an identity all its own. The 800-square-foot bar has a front and back room, as well as an outdoor patio to accommodate guests.
ART, HOSPITALITY, AND APPROACHABILITY
Only the ceiling of the bar is painted; every other material exists in a raw state. All of the thoughtfully sourced materials used in the bar can be counted on a single hand.
The floors are covered in handmade terracotta tiles from Mexico. The face of the bar itself is concrete with a polished stone top. Exposed brick lines the majority of the walls. The minimalism of the materials and the warm, monochromatic color palette is simultaneously calming and refreshing, ceding the spotlight to the finer details behind the bar and the plant life spread throughout the space. Special attention was made to how the lighting would interact with the bar and its patrons to make everything and everyone inside look their best.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, though. The refined menu offers something for everyone but isn’t limited. If you want something specific, the bartender will make it for you. Those who visit the bar will become familiar with a "casual luxury" approach to the Saeso experience. While everything from the aesthetic to the drinks to the service is of the highest possible quality, it's still very approachable and inviting.
SAESO'S BEST FEATURE
Guilfoil & Wulfson, who spent years in LA working on design and branding projects for companies around the nation, moved to Cincinnati and opened The Carriage House last year. The response to Pendleton's gorgeous, semi-hidden Airbnb was huge and inspired them to pursue opening Saeso next door, partly as a companion to the Carriage House. Despite the challenges of working on and opening a bar this year, they stuck with the plan and worked through it with help from their architect and tradespeople.
Remember the opening scenario when you left the bar and walked across the alley to your bed and breakfast? That's entirely inspired by Saeso. Its best feature is how it interfaces with The Carriage House next door. Because The Carriage House has the trappings of a five-star hotel but lacks a formal lobby and hotel bar, Saeso steps in to fill that gap for its guests. When someone stays at The Carriage House, they check in at Saeso and receive the same level of reception they would at a full-service hotel before heading next door to the Airbnb.
Additionally, Carriage House guests receive a VIP experience at Saeso. Their first drink is free at the bar, guests are offered exclusive bottle service and drinks delivered to the Carriage House, and the knowledgeable bartenders are there to assist guests with local recommendations and reservations.
You don't even have to be from out of town to enjoy the VIP experience, either. The Carriage House regularly hosts local over-night guests. With travel being limited at the moment due to the pandemic, many are opting for staycations and special weekends. The Carriage House x Saeso relationship is great at accommodating that type of getaway by offering a luxury place to stay with exclusive perks at one of Cincinnati's most unique bar experiences.
Oh, and one more thing: Saeso is open seven days a week. That’s especially nice considering so many bars close on Mondays.
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Saeso is located at 1208 Sycamore Street in Pendleton, at the border of Over-the-Rhine (45202). Read up on the Carriage House here.