After 11 years of serving cocktails, food and “burner” music, Asiento owner Debi Cohn has closed the bar and is launching another bar with her former manager, Sven Forner.
The new establishment, Madam Racecar, opens mid-May and takes over the old Asiento digs at 2730 21st St. The cosmic mural will remain, but if you’re expecting any other remnants from Asiento, don’t.
“It’s a new place, new name, new look. You can mourn the loss of the old place, but get to know the new place,” Cohn said.
The bar that was once known to play electronic music sets throughout the night has ripped out the DJ booth and replaced it with a new eight-by-11-foot stage. Cohn and Forner are doing a complete remodel and paint job. Forner hints that Madam Racecar’s aesthetic will involve a “warmer” palette and speakeasy lighting but, naturally, he wants customers to come in and “discover it themselves.”
Madam Racecar will be a “neighborhood bar” that features DJ sets and live performances on the new stage. “I still want it to be a home for DJs of all stripes, but more hospitable for a wider range of all music,” Forner said.
What kind of live music? “Whatever live music is good!” Cohn said. “We have an opportunity for a lot of different people.” The stage may also feature comics from Mutiny Radio, a block over at 21st and Florida streets, as Asiento often did. The calendar isn’t set yet, except for Taco Tuesdays.
Madam Racecar will offer a full bar and kitchen, and Forner is working on a new drink menu. Though drinks’ recipes are secret, Forner revealed that some of their drinks’ names will be palindromes. Words that can be read backwards and forwards, he said, are “unexpected” and “fun.” So, did you expect that’s how Madam Racecar got its name? Two palindromes. Wow. (That makes three.) “The name jumped out at me, phonetically,” Forner said. Still, he emphasized palindromes are not the bar’s theme, just fun extras.
Forner spent 14 years bartending for the Mission’s Blondie’s Bar and a year at Asiento, and this will be the first bar he owns. “Over the course of having done it for quite a while, you want to tailor [your job] to the style that suits you best in offerings and workflow. And that’s an opportunity you only get in an ownership position,” he said.
Cohn will stay involved as a partner, but take a more hands-off approach. “When someone calls in sick, they’re not going to call me, and I’m not going to change my plans. They will call the new partner and it will change their plan,” she said.
The challenges of handling a bar alone were part of the reason she decided to shut down Asiento. Friends “stop inviting you after 11 years of you saying, ‘I can’t go,’” said Cohn, who worked holidays and weekends.
Then, in the pandemic, she hit her limit. She started table service because of Covid-19 restrictions, but disliked it because Asiento was never supposed to be a table-service establishment. She realized Asiento was no longer the place she dreamed it would be, a place where she always said “yes.”
“I had to become a policewoman, like, ‘You can’t come in if you’re not vaccinated (which I agreed with), or masks, and all these rules,” Cohn said. “Having to do that for two years, and then argue with people about it. … It’s like, this is not what I signed up for.”
She and Forner talked about their aspirations, and realized their interests aligned. The closed Asiento on April 3, will renovate the building and launch Madam Racecar by mid-May. “I need to … just … to take a break,” Cohn said.