Bar Nohm in Central 9th now celebrates Japanese and Korean drinking culture

Bar Nohm and Water Witch are “sister” bars, joined by a shared door.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Reopened with a new concept, and a new connection to cocktail bar Water Witch, Bar Nohm offers patrons a drinks, small bites and easy passage between both intimate spaces.

Nohm the family-friendly restaurant is no more. Now it’s called Bar Nohm (rhymes with “home”), located in Salt Lake City’s Central 9th neighborhood, and it’s beginning its new life as a “sister” to next-door cocktail bar Water Witch.

Bar Nohm and Water Witch each have distinct personalities, but they share a “spiritual connection,” said Sean Neves, who owns Bar Nohm with partners Scott Gardner and chef David Chon. Neves and Gardner also own Water Witch.

That connection was made evident during a total remodel on the Nohm side, when the teams behind the neighboring establishments decided to cut a “portal” between them, with a large mahogany door that patrons can wander through whenever they wish with a drink in their hand.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bar Nohm just reopened with a new concept and a new connection to the bar Water Witch, accessible through a "portal" in the back.

The result means Water Witch is still a “fun neighborhood cocktail dive,” Neves said. But Bar Nohm is now an “izakaya,” which, in Japanese drinking culture, is a gastropub where you can enjoy alcoholic beverages and small bites with friends.

“It’s really a continuation of chef Chon’s vision for Nohm, and it’s really sort of tightening what Nohm always was meant to be,” Neves said.

Joining two bars

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bar Nohm’s owners, from left, Scott Gardner, Chef David Chon and Sean Neves, outside their newly opened space.

Before Bar Nohm and Water Witch shared a door, they shared a birthday. Neves and Gardner opened Water Witch with director of operations Matt Pfohl on Dec. 28, 2016, and Chon opened Nohm on the same date in 2019.

“From there on out, we started collaborating on special events and putting our heads together on special nights,” Neves said. “We did some lunches together, some brunch stuff. And through the process, we just became huge fans of David’s food, and really enjoyed coming over here and spending time. It was just sort of the seeds of a really great partnership right there.”

Both establishments had to close down, however, in March 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. And with Nohm being only a few months old when the shutdown happened, the coronavirus deeply impacted its business.

Each also had to deal with heavy construction on 900 South that went on for about 2 1/2 years.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Patrons enjoy a night out at Bar Nohm in Salt Lake City, looking out to a newly renovated street following heavy construction along 900 South.

So toward the end of 2021, Neves and Gardner approached Chon about teaming up. “We started talking about things and talking about our shared love of food and drink,” Neves said. Over time, Chon became a regular at Water Witch and vice versa. In early 2022, they formally joined forces to create “this conjoining, almost food hall-style feel.”

Over about eight months, Neves, Gardner and Chon expanded Nohm’s kitchen, including adding a “laboratory” area for cocktail preparation; a new 25-foot bar console; and the use of a flexible wooden material called dukta that divides the room and creates a nook with tables and cozy booths.

Other seating includes a large circular table in one corner, a communal table that faces the windows, and individual seats at the bar.

Since the two bars are connected, they share a liquor license. They also share a patio, which has full service.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Crystal Daniels, former beverage director at Post Office Place whips up a drink at Bar Nohm.

Neves said that even if the pandemic hadn’t happened, the joining of Bar Nohm and Water Witch would’ve still come about. “We’re sort of common travelers in the food and beverage world,” he said. “I think coronavirus was part of it, but really it was just sort of a melding of creative teams and ideas that accentuate each other.”

Izakaya food & drinks

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The communal table at Bar Nohm in Salt Lake City, offering patrons views of the Central 9th neighborhood.

On a busy Friday night, Bar Nohm can feel crowded. But that’s on purpose, Neves said. It’s all a part of that izakaya culture. “A lot of times, the spaces are very tight, it’s hard to get a table, they usually have a standing area with no stools where you might do the entire evening, just sort of picking at something salty, drinking something sour with friends, talking about life.”

“So that was sort of the challenge with this space was to make it intimate and tight and make people be close together,” Neves continued. Bar Nohm also takes reservations, for those who want to guarantee a spot in the small space.

Chon, who grew up in South Korea and has traveled throughout Japan, said it’s part of the culture there and in many countries around the world that after work or at night, you “just go out and grab a few bites and then have a drink with your friends or by yourself.”

“I thought that in the States that kind of culture was very, very much missing, and I thought that I’d provide that kind of experience,” Chon said.

The food menu is mostly influenced by food Chon grew up eating. But the dishes also have influences of Chinese food, Spanish tapas, and food that might be found in an American gastropub, Neves said.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The grilled sea bass at Bar Nohm.

The cauliflower poppers ($14) are one example of a dish that melds multiple stylistic elements, with each floret of cauliflower slightly crunchy and perfect for dunking into the sweet chili sauce.

On the side, the translucent Ghost Daq drink ($13) or the summery Strawberry Sanders cocktail ($14) are both fitting matches.

Also on the menu are bites including oysters ($23), spicy yellowtail ($16), the mountain potato pancake ($13), and grilled sea bass ($16).

For a medium portion, try the green bean and shishito ($13), kimchi rice ($22), or duck wrap ($32). The food menu changes daily depending on what products are fresh and available; an up-to-date menu can be viewed at BarNohm.com.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A half-dozen Kumamoto oysters at Bar Nohm, one of many small bites on the menu.

For drinkers who are interested in cocktail history, the menu has a “historic cocktails” section with mainstays like the Alberto, which is a “martini variant” that was invented in 1937.

Chon said the menu is still “a work in progress” and is a “team effort” among the staff at Bar Nohm. But he said he finally “got the restaurant I wanted, so it’s pretty interesting how things have turned out.”

“We’re just really, really stoked to be open,” Neves said. “This is one that took a tremendous amount of energy, and a tremendous amount of resources to pull off. It’s so close to home, Water Witch will always be our mother ship. And we just wanted to nail it. And we’re really excited to have the doors open.”

Bar Nohm is open Tuesday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; on Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to midnight; and on Sundays from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Reservations can be made online or by calling 385-465-4488.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Cozy cocktail bar Water Witch nuzzles up next to Bar Nohm. The two establishments share a "portal" between them, and a liquor license, allowing patrons to pass between either business with a drink in hand.