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

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. 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

      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

        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. 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

        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. 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. 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

            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

              Thanks for confirming - I really appreciate the help.

          2. 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

              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. 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

                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

                  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

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

                2. re: LisaLM

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

                    Which night of the week?

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      "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

                        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

                          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

                            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

                              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

                                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

                          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. 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

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

                          1. re: LisaLM

                            "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

                              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. 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

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