Bar Ferdinand in that innocent era before social distancing. The pizza lives on...in a smaller format.

As Seattle’s bars and restaurants pivot, plan, and navigate streams of bureaucracy to ensure their doors will open again after our shutdown lifts, a new one readies itself in Chophouse Row.

The former home of Matt Dillon’s Bar Ferdinand will soon become a wine-focused spot called Light Sleeper. Well, “soon” is a relative, perhaps meaningless term as the city enters its eighth week of staying home in our fight against Covid-19. Owner Eli Dahlin says construction resumed this week—thanks to social distancing measures—on the space that will become Light Sleeper.

You could reasonably call Light Sleeper a wine bar; Dahlin’s three business partners are all somms. Serafina and Ciccheti alum Salomon Navarro will run the front of house; Will Mason of Monsoon oversees the retail wine side of things. Ezra Wicks, who worked here with Dahlin when the space was Bar Ferdinand, is wine director. However its owners also promise cocktails (especially with liquors like mezcal that convey a sense of place) and zero judgment if what you really want is to be left alone with a vodka soda.

While Light Sleeper won’t, uh, stir until mid-summer at the earliest, the partners also have a new retail wine shop called Digby that already exists, in virtual form, and is ready to deliver bottles to Seattle’s shut-in drinkers via its wine club, Bottlerocket. In the future, Digby will occupy a nearby stall (formerly Moo-Young) in Chophouse Row. 

Dahlin’s a bit of a paradox, a chef whose built a reputation by cooking in bars where his menu isn’t exactly the point. Like Renee Erickson’s Walrus and the Carpenter, originally envisioned as a low-key oyster bar, now a culinary landmark. Or Damn the Weather, where the fan base for Dahlin’s Caesar salad sandwich rivaled that of the cocktail program. Now again, he’s cooking at a bar. When the focus is on beer or wine, he says, “People don’t have preconceived notions about the size of plates or the style. I’m in this for the creative part.”

Which means his food is, by definition, hard to sum up in paragraphs like this one. His only criteria, he says, is food that’s “simple, light, and beautiful,” that doesn’t draw from any particular flavor culture (Italian, Japanese, etc.) and sports just three to five ingredients. One certainty: Bar Ferdinand’s wood-fired oven will stay busy. Dahlin’s pizzas will be smaller—maybe 8 inches, to avoid dominating a meal—and deliver pared-back combos like brown butter, maple blossoms, and malt vinegar, or chives with fontina and truffles. The kitchen Matt Dillon designed for this space runs entirely on fire, and Dahlin says it will mostly stay that way.

But obviously wine is central here. Light Sleeper's list will be all glass pours, about 25-35 in total, carefully culled from small-scale producers. Wicks points out that having three somms as owners means three different palates informing the selection, and three people you can flag down if you'd like to know more about indigenous grapes or sulphur's role (or vehement lack thereof) in winemaking. Wine aficionados, somms, and natural wine devotees don't necessarily hang out at the same places or frequent the same wine lists, says Wicks, but he hopes Light Sleeper's list can be a meeting ground of sorts. Digby, the bottle shop, will function as Light Sleeper's wine cellar. Here, parameters broaden: Wicks promises older bottles, and a chance to explore, say, 1990s Barolo or California cab at its Dallas-era zenith. Even better—over at Light Sleeper you can order any of these bottles and pay the retail price.

Light Sleeper will remake the Bar Ferdinand space, a handsome industrial jewelbox hidden from the street, with rafters, lots of plants, and upholstered booths. Of course, its owners await more directives on what can happen inside this space and when; for now they plan to maximize outdoor seating in the Chophouse Row courtyard whenever they do open, and sell pantry items and wood-fired takeout. At some point the Light Sleeper Instagram should start offering updates.

The bar’s name is a bit of a non sequitur, with a dash of Donnie Darko’s "cellar door" allusion to phrases that just sound lovely to the ear. It certainly wasn’t a reference to Covid-19–driven uncertainties, says Dahlin. “But we have done a lot of tossing and turning lately.”

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