San Francisco’s Hawkerfare gives Nanobar non-alcoholic vending machine a shot

A sandwich outside Hawkerfare, the long-running and beloved Lao bar and restaurant on Valencia Street, advertises a number of semi-obscure drinks in a chalkboard above a QR code. They include the Mellow Mule and the Hairless Dog IPA, which are just a sample of what customers can order from Hawkerfare’s new vending machine: the Nanobar, a Monolith lookalike landing somewhere between Kubrick and Zuckerberg.

All of the drinks it sells are non-alcoholic, and so far Hawkerfare general manager Dolly Valdez Bautista says they’ve been a big hit. Despite the boom in non-alcoholic and low-alcohol beverages, bar vending machines offering anything other than diet coke and root beer are still fairly rare. For Hawkerfare, however, it was a chance to bring together the mocktail trend and the Bay Area’s obsession with convenience. A match made in heaven.

As far as Valdez Bautista knows, she was the first in San Francisco to install the Nanobar in a traditional bar. (Odds she’s still the only one to do so, though Hotel Zoe at Fisherman’s Wharf has a Nanobar outside Italian restaurant Pescatore.) One of the founders of the vending company smart automatics knew Valdez Bautista through the service industry; he contacted her to see if Hawkerfare might want to try Nanobar. “I wanted to support my friend in the new venture,” says Valdez Bautista. “I told them we had space and weren’t completely full due to COVID. I needed a light in this corner, and the machine has a neon.

Nanobar, which bills itself as an information technology company, was launched in late July 2021 and set up its Hawkerfare machine in November. In the midst of omicron, it was popular as a self-service, take-out option for customers. “A lot of drinks are good for relaxing,” says Valdez Bautista. “They are very light. I think the machine would do just fine in a gym. Many Hawkerfare customers enjoy yoga and exercise, Valdez Bautista says, while many of his friends who visit him at the bar are Muslim and opt for non-alcoholic drinks.

Serving non-alcoholic beverages has always been important to Valdez Bautista to ensure people can toast with something tastier than a Sprite. In fact, Hawkerfare’s alcohol-free virtual classes have also been popping up lately. According to Valdez Bautista, of Nanobar’s offerings, the three CBD and hemp drinks, with the Recess line featured, are the best sellers, right up there with the non-alcoholic gin and tonic. “Some people don’t make mocktails because they say it wastes money,” says Valdez Bautista. “It’s just a myth. I sell my mocktails for $12.

There have been times when customers bought drinks from the Nanobar when Hawkerfare wasn’t even open. Valdez Bautista says that while the bar is setting up, or if staff are on a break, people can just walk in and order a drink. It’s common for sweaty gym-goers at Live Fit across the street to grab a post-workout drink. Whether or not Nanobar appears in the dimly lit corner of any other bar in San Francisco is anyone’s guess. For now, Valdez Bautista says the machine is at least for bringing in new people. “I’m open-minded to new things,” says Valdez Bautista.

Joshua B. Speller