San Franciscans Eating at the Bar
We're two Chowhounds visiting from SF. We'll be in town on a Wednesday and Thursday night, staying at the Soho Grand. In San Francisco we eat a lot of meals at the bar-- we like the sociability of chatting up the bartender and/or engagaging in small talk with other customers, and the option to order a little or a lot of food.
- Some complexity in the food--Closer to foie gras than burgers.
- Bartenders who make their customers feel welcome, and who are likely to pour new things for us to try
- Budget not a serious constraint
The bar at Veritas and WD-50 have been suggested. Other thoughts? (I'm not trying to start another thread about WD-50--but I will say I've read the posts and am intrigued.)
Veritas is a good choice, so is Craft (don't miss Craft). I will suggest my perennial favorite, Savoy, as you will be in the general neighborhood. They are open throughout the afternoon so you can also stop in between meals for a plate or two and a glass of wine if you want to check it out but not commit to a full meal. I am an inveterate bar diner but oddly, I have found far fewer places that fill the bill you have drawn than I found in LA & SF. There is one very Tadich guy who works the oyster bar at Grand Central, but there is only one of him and you may not want to run the risk. If you do, remember to stick to oysters. Then of course there are the places where you have to dine at the bar such as Tia Pol & Bar Carerra. I recommend both. Actually, you can also dine at the bar at Eleven Madison but I wouldn't recommend it except on off hours as I have had one great meal that way with Kerry Heffernan but also a couple of dreadful ones more recently when the entire building decided to have happy hour there for the evening.
Veritas and Craft are excellent recommendations although you may want to focus on the wine selection instead of mixed drinks.
Also, Lupa and Babbo are ideal bar situtations since you don't have to deal with the hassle of reservations. The bartenders at Lupa and Babbo are very friendly and just the type to make things up if you ask them.
I've also had very good drinks at Jane (while waiting for Lupa) and they sent out a couple of complimentary dishes to show off the kitchen. The food was quite good...not too different from something you'd find in SF though.
Second Babbo! I know my uncle who lives in the W. Village eats at the bar there every couple of weeks and loves it.
Also want to add Otto. We ate there shortly after it first opened and thought it was okay. We went back recently and ate at the bar and had a great experience. The bartenders, Dennis and Sam, were so attentive. We have a full meal and never had to wait for anything or sit there trying to get someone's attention. You could really tell they knew some of their customers eating at the bar as regulars.
It's the only way I'd eat there now.
I would recommend Degustation. Had a wonderful meal there a few weeks ago and the food is a good blend of innovative yet still very tasty. The plus is that you can only eat around the bar behind which is the chef and his two sous-chefs rather than simply the bartender. I think it adds an additional element of fun to see your food being prepared and be able to ask questions about it.
The bar at the Gramercy Tavern is excellent! The bartender's are the nicest and the menu is much more reasonable than the main dining room w/o compromising the food. Veritas is also very good but more of a sterile experience, very quiet and not really a full-time bartender (at least when we went on a Thursday night), it's also pretty pricey for eating at a bar. Gramercy has that great lively warm feeling to it, plus the bar's mu9ch bigger than Babbo, Veritas, Lupa & WD-50 so you increase your chances of getting seated. I'll also give a nod to Gotham Bar & Grill.
here's a modest thought. walk to Union Square and scoot over to Casa Mono on Irving Place. try to get there around 4 p.m. or so (not joking here). grab a bar seat in front of the kitchen (it's a tiny place) and have Andy feed you for a few hours. tapas and wine, when well done, work for me. not too pricey. excellent selection of spanish wines.
re: steve h
the one time my friend and i tried the the "go there at 4pm" strategy, they very rudely tried to kick us out around 5:30, despite the fact that we'd ordered a huge amount of food and were still finishing our bottle of wine...really offensive table-turning behavior that turned me off to the place...i've been there two other times: i like the place in theory and really wanted to love it (thus the three tries), but i found the food very uneven (some delicious dishes, some poor ones, the service snotty, and the noise level unbearable)...that last visit was over a year ago, so i could almost give it another shot during off hours, but the 5:30 ejection pretty much soured me on the place...