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Mission Impossible?: Group dinner for grad students near Union Square

LisaLM Mar 7, 2008 12:59 PM

Hi everyone,
I’m organizing a group dinner for an alumni/grad student group as we converge upon SF for our annual conference in early April. I’m having a heck of a time finding a place for us to gather, but that is most likely because I’m asking for too much. Here’s what’s on my wish list, in rough order of preference:

1) no more than $40/person, including drinks
2) private room/area
3) no time limit
4) NOT a seated dinner – more of a mix & mingle reception with buffet dinner
5) walk or easy transport from Hilton SF (O’Farrell & Mason)
6) food that doesn’t make you want to shoot yourself

Can you give me some leads on places I should check out? I know that placing such a low bar on the food requirement is not exactly chow-ish, but I trust you folks.

Another tidbit of information: I’m willing to entertain ethnic food options, even though the bulk of the crowd is non-adventurous New Englanders… I’ll take the heat for daring to expose them to food from other cultures. :o)

thanks so much!

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  1. Scott M RE: LisaLM Mar 7, 2008 01:31 PM

    One possibility is Thirsty Bear.


    According to the website a group function for dinner runs between $30 - $50 per person.

    Thirsty Bear Brewing Co
    661 Howard St., San Francisco, CA 94105

    2 Replies
    1. re: Scott M
      Carrie 218 RE: Scott M Mar 7, 2008 01:45 PM

      I would second Thirsty Bear -- the private area is upstairs, has great homemade beer, a pool table, and really good food (tapas).

      1. re: Carrie 218
        Nina RE: Carrie 218 Mar 7, 2008 01:57 PM

        I met up with some British friends a few weeks ago who just had been at a conference at Moscone for three or four days and were basing their entire impression of San Francisco dining on Thirsty Bear -- and they loved it.

    2. Ruth Lafler RE: LisaLM Mar 7, 2008 01:41 PM

      Since you're open to "ethnic" I'd give Sultan a call. I don't know if there's a private room/area in their new digs, but if there is, it should fill the bill perfectly. The food is delicious, including some regional offerings beyond the usual fare, and the people there are very nice and easy to work with.

      340 Ofarrell St, San Francisco, CA 94102

      1 Reply
      1. re: Ruth Lafler
        Windy RE: Ruth Lafler Mar 9, 2008 10:25 PM

        There is a separate area suitable for perhaps 15-20. It's the same room, but still reasonably private. The food is wonderful--much better than Thirsty Bear, which is really a beer hall with food

        415 775-1709

      2. m
        ML8000 RE: LisaLM Mar 7, 2008 06:29 PM

        I 3rd or 4th Thirsty Bear, it can get loud but everything else works. You might try Town Hall but they might need a deposit, etc. I think they do a reasonable fixed price per/person.

        This is a good resource,all private rooms, breaks down the restaurant and group size. You could then cross check against here. http://www.sfpdv.com/

        1. l
          LisaLM RE: LisaLM Mar 8, 2008 12:05 PM

          Thanks so much for the quick and promising recommendations.

          I called Thirsty Bear (looked perfect!), and their private rooms are already booked for both April 10 and 11th. The woman I spoke with there was very helpful (and I credited chowhound.com for the recommendation). She mentioned that they have an area near the bar, to the left of the host stand, that didn't open until 4:30pm. Apparently, we could send someone to hold tables for our group to meet there. Does anyone have a sense of what this space would be like? I'm willing to grab a friend and gab until my group can get there, but don't want to go to that effort if the space isn't worth it.

          Also, I tried to find a website for Sultan (www.sultan360.com?) and tried to call, but struck out on both counts. Is there a website I don't know about, or is theirs out of commission? If so, I'll just keep trying...

          2 Replies
          1. re: LisaLM
            Carrie 218 RE: LisaLM Mar 8, 2008 04:54 PM

            I think you'll do just fine at The Thirsty Bear -- yeah, it is near all their smaller tables but the space is long enough that you guys will be relatively secluded.

            1. re: Carrie 218
              LisaLM RE: Carrie 218 Mar 9, 2008 03:47 PM

              Thanks for confirming - I really appreciate the help.

          2. c
            chutney RE: LisaLM Mar 10, 2008 11:16 AM

            a bit further by a few blocks but great food and generally gets good reviews on this board would be http://www.helmandrestaurantsanfranci...

            1 Reply
            1. re: chutney
              Robert Lauriston RE: chutney Mar 10, 2008 11:23 AM

              Many blocks. Helmand's current location is 2424 Van Ness, about two miles from O'Farrell and Mason. Their old location at 430 Broadway (reopening someday) is about a mile and half.

            2. l
              LisaLM RE: LisaLM Mar 11, 2008 03:15 PM

              An update: Thirsty Bear doesn't look like it's going to work out. I called again and spoke with someone different, and she was very nice but less enthusiastic about the idea of just staking out the tables near the bar... she said our ability to "reserve" that many tables during a conference would be dependent in part on who was working there. Well, that's too iffy for me - but I appreciate her candor!

              I also talked with someone at Sultan, and the space they have is borderline in terms of fitting our group (25-30). They are indeed very nice/accommodating, willing to work with our budget. I didn't know they were BYO, though. That complicates things a bit for all of us out-of-towners. Is someone able to help me out with a plan that would make this work for our group? (i.e., is there a liquor store nearby?)

              The only other option I have in the works is E&O trading company, where we could be on their mezzanine level. A bit pricer, though - $50/head assuming 2 drinks per person. I could see from the board that the food isn't a home run, but it didn't appear to be dismal either.

              If I'm going to put people into cabs for this event, I would like it to be a real winner in terms of all the other things on my list, including a palpable upgrade from "food that doesn't make you want to shoot yourself." :o)

              Sorry for the long post - and thanks again for all the help! (I'll check out Helmand...)

              4 Replies
              1. re: LisaLM
                rahir RE: LisaLM Mar 11, 2008 04:17 PM

                Helmand is too far!

                What about Zebulon? They have a room partitioned off by a curtain (at least they did the last time I was there). Good drinks (try the Mojito) and decent food (including some killer sweet potato fries). It's about a block east of Thirsty Bear. High ceilings and a beautiful red brick wall.

                83 Natoma St, San Francisco, CA 94105

                1. re: rahir
                  Paul H RE: rahir Mar 11, 2008 04:20 PM

                  Jack Falstaff rents out their patio dining area for groups of about this size. You might try there, but even $50 per person might be tough.

                  1. re: Paul H
                    Paul H RE: Paul H Mar 11, 2008 04:30 PM

                    Though if you just want apps & drinks $50 might be okay.

                2. re: LisaLM
                  Windy RE: LisaLM Mar 11, 2008 06:36 PM

                  Hidden Vine is a wine bar three blocks from the Hilton. You could probably buy them out for 2 hours for $800 and have the place to yourselves. They serve plates of meat and cheese, and the atmosphere is cozy.

                  There is a liquor store within a block of the Hilton/Sultan, and it's never a problem to find decent wine and beer selection.

                3. r
                  rahir RE: LisaLM Mar 11, 2008 04:25 PM

                  Also, I'm not sure if this would work into your budget, but you might want to call Colibri and inquire if an event there would be doable. They make wonderful margaritas as well as yummy small and large plates. I think they may have a back room.

                  Colibri Mexican Bistro
                  438 Geary St., San Francisco, CA 94102

                  1. Robert Lauriston RE: LisaLM Mar 12, 2008 09:22 AM

                    How late does "no time limit" have to be? Midnight?

                    Which night of the week?

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: Robert Lauriston
                      LisaLM RE: Robert Lauriston Mar 12, 2008 11:35 AM

                      "no time limit" just means I don't want to get booted out of a room after 2 hours. We see each other once a year, and it takes more time than that to get caught up. I'm guessing that 6pm - 10pm would be more than adequate, though; most of the crew are coming from back east, which means 10pm is pretty late for them.

                      I'm targeting Thursday or Friday, April 10/11 - either night is fine.

                      1. re: LisaLM
                        Scott M RE: LisaLM Mar 12, 2008 11:48 AM

                        Another thought, Triptych. I have not personally been there, but considering your limitations it could work. The price is in your range given 25-30 people at $40 a person. They appear flexible in offering a mix and mingle venue.


                        Triptych Restaurant
                        1155 Folsom Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

                        1. re: Scott M
                          rahir RE: Scott M Mar 12, 2008 12:09 PM

                          That neighborhood, though, is pretty sketch at night. I wouldn't want to wait for a cab or walk back to the Hilton from there in the dark.

                          1. re: rahir
                            Robert Lauriston RE: rahir Mar 12, 2008 12:29 PM

                            That particular block of Folsom is well-lit and hopping at night. Brain Wash, Terroir, Julie's Supper Club, Basil Thai, Eight, and Border Cantina are also in that block and there are a few more places around the corners.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston
                              rahir RE: Robert Lauriston Mar 12, 2008 05:13 PM

                              As a woman in her late 20s to early 30s, I don't feel safe there at night. Period. It may be hopping, but I don't feel it's well lit or a safe walk up towards Market.

                              1. re: rahir
                                Robert Lauriston RE: rahir Mar 13, 2008 07:48 PM

                                Walking alone to Market, yeah, dicey. Waiting for a cab in front of a restaurant, probably safer than walking to someplace near the Hilton.

                        2. re: LisaLM
                          Robert Lauriston RE: LisaLM Mar 12, 2008 12:24 PM

                          Schroeder's might work. Very old-school German place (deer heads on the walls, comic murals of drunken Bavarians), decent selection of German beer on tap, wine list, full bar. They have a private room in back, from the groups I've heard of using the space it's either free or dirt cheap.

                          Thursdays and Fridays there's a rotation of free meatballs (quite good), fried chicken (not great), and french fries (decent) during happy hour from 5-7. Party platters with sausages, smoked pork chops, potato pancakes, herrings, sauerkraut, red cabbage, etc. are $32.

                          I've gone to a few after-work things there and (partly thanks to the free stuff) we've always gotten out well within your budget.

                          It's about a mile. You could hop a 38 bus on O'Farrell or a vintage streetcar on Market St. to shorten the walk.

                          Schroeder's Cafe
                          240 Front St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                      2. l
                        LisaLM RE: LisaLM Mar 13, 2008 09:07 PM

                        Quick responses on the many helpful suggestions:
                        1) Sultan - haven't heard back from their manager (yet), so I'd need to call them back to get moving on this. I'm concerned their space might be too small now that I know we'll be closer to 30-35 than the 20-25 I was thinking originally.
                        2) Jack Falstaff - beautiful looking place, but my crew will balk at $50 for apps and drinks
                        3) Hidden Vine - another good suggestion for another group, but I think my crew is largely a cheap beer and mixed drink group, which means the wine angle will be (sadly) lost on them
                        4) Colibri - corresponded with a very nice manager there, who indicated they do not have a private room/area and couldn't do a mix/mingle kind of gathering very well at their place... but kudos for responsiveness and candor
                        5) Tryptich - got scared off a bit about the neighborhood... mostly because I feel responsible for the group, and I don't want them to feel worried about the neighborhood
                        6) Zebulon and Schroeders are both further away than current front-runners E&O Trading and Sultan, so I haven't contacted them yet.

                        Again, I appreciate the comments and suggestions...

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: LisaLM
                          Robert Lauriston RE: LisaLM Mar 14, 2008 09:07 AM

                          In California, it's illegal to bring liquor to a restaurant without a liquor license, so Sultan is out.

                          1. re: LisaLM
                            Paul H RE: LisaLM Mar 14, 2008 11:08 AM

                            "2) Jack Falstaff - beautiful looking place, but my crew will balk at $50 for apps and drinks" did you call and check out the pricing?

                            1. re: Paul H
                              LisaLM RE: Paul H Mar 14, 2008 08:31 PM

                              No, I didn't call - but on their website (under Private Dining, link that says "Complete private event package"), it says lunch is $40 for 3 courses, dinner is $65 for 3 courses, and that is not including beverages, 8.5% sales tax, and 20% gratuity. So, I figured it would be a stretch to get us anywhere near our budget for a dinner gathering there.

                          2. j
                            Joan Kureczka RE: LisaLM Mar 14, 2008 05:21 PM

                            How about Annabelle's, on 4th between Market and Mission. Looks like they will do a standup reception/buffet and there is a full bar. This place doesn't come up here often, but I was very pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food and service at a business event held there in January.

                            Annabelle's Bar & Bistro
                            68 Fourth Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Joan Kureczka
                              LisaLM RE: Joan Kureczka Mar 14, 2008 08:38 PM

                              Thanks for the tip - I went ahead and e-mailed the Special Event Coordinator (love the titles these folks have!) for some more information.

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