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Ilya Romanov, Beloved S.F. bar manager dies in fall at 33

Ilya Romanov, a celebrated bar manager who worked at the Russian Hill restaurant Nisei and adjacent cocktail lounge, Bar Iris, fell to his death on Polk Street on Friday. He was 33.

San Francisco police arrived at the 2300 block of Polk Street at around 11:30 p.m. Friday and found Romanov on the ground, according to a department spokesperson. Officers summoned medics, and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

“The preliminary investigation has determined that the victim fell from a nearby roof,” said Sgt. Adam Lobsinger, a public information officer with the Police Department. “At this time the death appears to be accidental and foul play is not suspected.”

“We’re not entirely sure why he was on the roof, or going to the roof,” said Miguel Salehi, a friend who was not with Romanov at the time of his death. A representative for Nisei and Bar Iris did not have further details. The restaurant included a rooftop herb garden from which Romanov used ingredients.

December had been a month of major professional milestones for Romanov.

He had just been named a San Francisco-Oakland rising star by the industry magazine StarChefs. Nisei had just celebrated its first Michelin star.

“There are no words to fully encapsulate the loss we are experiencing,” a representative for Nisei and Bar Iris wrote in a social media post. 

“Ilya helped build Bar Iris from day one and gave every last effort into improving it daily. On any given night, he could be found crafting delicious beverages and welcoming guests with a smile. A bar tended by Ilya was, in his words, ‘impeccable, incredible, sensational!’”

In 2021, Romanov joined chef-owner David Yoshimura to open Nisei and Bar Iris. To accompany Yoshimura’s Japanese-American menu, Romanov developed cocktails with ingredients such as Japanese whisky, plums and cherry blossoms. Romanov’s beverages, Jordan Michelman wrote in a review of Bar Iris for The Chronicle from July, possessed a “cinematic quality, flowing like luminous sea creatures, seahorse purple and anemone green.”

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