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ISO a very quiet bar

An old friend is coming to SF just a few weeks before her wedding. I hesitate to call this her wedding shower/bachelorette weekend, because this lady just likes things low key. Her #1 request was that she be in bed by 11pm each night (and I only think she's half kidding). For her weekend, we have planned the Academy of Sciences, tea at Crown and Crumpet, the symphony, and we're moving on to deciding on dinner and drink locations. I have several restaurant in mind, so no help needed there.

But I'm kind of blanking on quiet bars where four girls can sit and chat after dinner. She likes wine and a nicely made cocktail, but is not an avid foodie by any stretch. I think she'd really get a kick out of places with more of a vibe that she can't get in sterile La Jolla, CA. She is quite an artist and enjoys all things with a dark but beautiful aesthetic:, or just plain cute.

Bourbon and Branch--always my neighborhood fall back
Hotel Biron--I think she'd like the vibe, but it does sometimes get really packed
Orbit Room--I hear great things, but still have never been. How noisy and crowded does it get on Fridays and Saturdays? And it's hardly dark and beautiful.
Elixir--again, hear good things but have never been

We do want some place where we'll be able to talk. Perhaps a less obvious choice, like a good hotel bar? Maybe she'd like the Top of the Mark. Not dark, but charmingly old school.

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  1. Try the Big Four. It has an old school vibe (although it's not that old), dark wood, comfy space.

    Big Four
    1075 California Street, San Francisco, CA 94108

    1. Clock Bar

      Jardinere (they're comfortable on the late side and have these nice "flights" of various liquors - I haven't been since the "j lounge" has been introduced)

      Top of the mark's not a bad call

      Why not just go to a restaurant that closes late with a good quiet vibe - I'm fond of The Globe; they've got some booths and a deceptively good bar.

      If you're moving locations just because a change of scene is good, giving us the exact location is helpful.

      1 Reply
      1. re: bbulkow

        Top of the Mark is a good pick until the band starts playing. Then it turns into a dance floor and is not a quiet place for a drink. Depending on the day of the week, the band starts playing anywhere from 6:30 to 9:00 pm. When I was there a few weeks ago on a Saturday night, there was a $20 cover charge and a short line (6 people) to get in. Seemed to be popular with ballroom dancers who looked like they go on a regular basis.

      2. I love elixir, but it's anything but quiet.

        1. Le Colonial might work too. They have a bar and lounge area with lots of good spots to have a conversation. I have been there when they had a jazz combo playing live and it wasn't too overpowering.

          Also, across the way is a nice & quiet wine bar called Hidden Vine.

          Hidden Vine
          620 Post St, San Francisco, CA 94109

          Le Colonial SF
          20 Cosmo Place, San Francisco, CA 94109

          1. 15 Romolo is usually quiet.

            So is the bar at Fifth Floor.

            Fifth Floor Restaurant
            12 Fourth St., San Francisco, CA 94103

            15 Romolo
            15 Romolo Pl, San Francisco, CA 94133

            1. Anyone been to the bar at Campton Place lately?

              1 Reply
              1. re: Melanie Wong

                That used to be the coziest bar in town, but I never liked it after the Laurent Manrique-era remodel.

              2. The bar/lounge area at the Four Seasons on Market is very quiet, and has a nice view of Market Street and downtown. Lots of comfortable, lounge-y seating. I can't vouch for the cocktails myself as I am not drinking alcohol these days, but my friends seemed pretty happy with their selections, including an old-school rye manhattan and a more new-school fruity drink with a sugared rim. Plus, the location is central enough that you can quickly grab a cab or public transit to another location (Mission, Tender-Nob, North Beach, etc.) if it doesn't meet your requirements...

                Another spot that occurs to me is Alfred's--known more for its steaks, I suppose, but they have a nice bar which is usually pretty quiet, and fantastic drinks. Their manhattans and martinis are served in the small tumblers they are composed in, and are actually doubles, so order carefully.

                Alfred's Steak House
                659 Merchant St., San Francisco, CA 94111

                7 Replies
                1. re: Leadbelly

                  I also think that the Four Seasons is a good choice for a particular experience -- not hip and arty, but more like entering a film noir scene.

                  martinis are great.

                  1. re: Leadbelly

                    I was going to make similar comments about the bar at the Four Seasons. The house-made wasabi peas are worth a trip on their own, the cheese plate and other bar nibbles are good, and the service is fabulous. That said, I thought they had planned to make some changes last fall. Has anyone been recently?

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      I've been enjoying the bar at Yoshi's SF recently. I like that little circular space directly opposite the bar itself, they have good munchies, and I like their 'dark and stormy' (ginger and dark rum). Pretty quiet too - but unlikely in the OP's part of town.

                    2. re: Leadbelly

                      The bar at the Four Seasons is exactly the place I was going to recommend. It's very loungey and nice, the drinks and snacks are good, and it's quiet and classy without feeling dead. I was there for a nightcap on New Years Eve shortly before last call, and even that night it was low key.

                      1. re: Leadbelly

                        Alfred's is a great choice, excellent drinks and atmosphere. The one issue is that there are only bar stools, so that four people will have to stand around in order to talk. I also like the bar at Harris, but same issue (I don't know if you can sit at the tables in the bar area without ordering food).

                        On another thread, someone mentioned the Pied Piper in the Palace Hotel, another great bar.

                        I sometimes have a drink at Cafe de la Presse after shopping, and it is almost always mellow, with a nice French cafe atmosphere. Not sure how late it is open.

                        On the more modern side, I like the bar at the St. Regis.

                        In terms of fun character, Aub Zam Zam is one that comes to mind. Can be noisy though.

                        Just up the street, I really like Alembic, but only if you can nail down a table, which is hard to do on a weekend. If you can get a table, then chatting in peace is no problem; otherwise you are going to be smashed into the narrow space in front of the bar. Excellent, excellent drinks though.

                        As mentioned, Elixir is noisy. Beretta is also loud, plus you will have to order food if you want to sit at one of the tables. Good drinks there.

                        1. re: david de berkeley

                          The one time I was in the bar at Alfred's there were several large groups in the restaurant, and perhaps as a result the bar was quite crowded and very noisy, with several folks deep at the bar and no place to sit for any of us. Drinks were quite good, however.

                          1. re: susancinsf

                            We were probably one of those groups -- when someone leaves our office, the send off is almost always at Alfred's. When we get there, there are usually only a handful of people there.

                            I've gone without the office folks and it has been relatively quiet.

                      2. If you're going early, you'll find most bars are on the mellow side, especially before 10:30-11.

                        Elixir is the exception to that rule, so I would skip that. Add 15 Romollo or Blackbird instead. You can try dinner or desserts at Spruce (walk in, at the bar), Beretta, Absinthe, or Nopa, all of which have extensive drink menus.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: sugartoof

                          Quite a few bars have live music that goes on before 10:30pm, depending on the night of the week. In most cases that eliminates them as good choices for quiet conversation. Seems like jazz combos are pretty common in the swankier places. Be sure to check the bar's website before you go.

                          1. re: Shane Greenwood

                            There aren't that many bars in SF serving extensive menus of old fashioned cocktails which also have a cabaret license for live entertainment. I actually can't think of any. Shouldn't be an issue for the OP.

                            1. re: sugartoof

                              Sorry, I'm confused by your response. The OP isn't looking for "old fashoined cocktails" nor an "extensive menu". They are looking for a quiet bar for after dinner and would like to find something not normally found in La Jolla.

                              My point is that your generalization that "most bars are on the mellow side, especially before 10:30-11" could be more helpful by noting that the OP should check with the bar to make sure there isn't live music since that would ruin the requirement for quiet. There are quiet a few bars that are good choices, but could become too loud due to the entertainment:

                              Shanghai 1930, Top of the Mark, Bix, Le Colonial, Enrico's, and others have live music. So it's worth checking the website before going.

                        2. If you are still looking, the Fifth Floor bar IS as quiet as you ever would want a bar to be.

                          How about the Ritz? It's lovely for tea and I imagine it would be comfy for drinks while being elegant.

                          1. May be too late, but the Four Seasons bar strikes me as something they may have replicated in identical fashion at whatever Four Seasons is nearest to La Jolla. For historical interest, the Palace Hotel's bar has a historically notable mural by Maxfield Parrish that might be of interest, and it's just down the block from the 5th floor in case the vibe feels wrong. For that matter, it's also very close to the Four Seasons bar and the St Regis bar, which I think might fit the bill very well. Dramatic architectural features, well-executed agressive modern decor in deep dark browns and lighter greys.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: SteveG

                              Not too late at all. Thanks, everyone. The weekend is next weekend, and armed with this arsenal of choices I'll have a good suggestion no matter where we end up in the city. I'll report back afterwards!

                              1. re: Pei

                                I think the Pied Piper Bar in the Palace Hotel and the Big Four Bar in the Huntington Hotel are your two best choices. Great old money. traditional places. Quiet and very, very nice.

                                1. re: Paul H

                                  Hi Paul,
                                  The Pied Piper Bar at the Palace can be anything but quiet. The hotel is a favorite of conference goers. I like the place but best to check the lineup at the Moscone Center before guaranteeing a measure of intimacy. Complicating matters is the Apple event next week (27th) at the Yerba Buena Center.

                              2. re: SteveG

                                just to clarify, the Palace Hotel bar with the Maxfield Parrish mural is the Pied Piper (it is the subject matter of the mural).

                                1. re: susancinsf

                                  Maxfield Parrish also painted "Old King Cole" at the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan. The King Cole Bar there is a classic. Best to wear a jacket. Some say the King Cole is the home of the bloody mary (red snapper) but that may be a bit of a marketing scam. I can vouch, however, that the King Cole Bar is a lot quieter than the Pied Piper.

                                  Both the Palace in San Francisco and the St. Regis in Manhattan are Starwood hotels.

                              3. Just thought of another option that has always been quiet when I've been: The Redwood Room at the Clift. Unbeatable surroundings and definitely dark and beautiful.

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: susancinsf

                                  The Redwood Room is a treasure. I used to stay at the Clift (last century) just so I could bask in its glory.

                                  I can't speak to the efficacy of the barkeep but I sure can vouch for the sheer beauty and elegance of the bar.

                                  thanks, susancinsf

                                  1. re: susancinsf

                                    I think the Redwood Room is one of the most handsome bars in San Francisco. The downside is that anywhere close to the weekends it is filled to the brim with scenesters and, ahem, ladies of the night. It turns into a quasi-club with no dance floor. Sadness.

                                    1. re: david de berkeley

                                      hmm....never noticed any such ladies. Perhaps my visits have only been on weekdays....? Either that, or they aren't noisy :-)

                                      1. re: susancinsf

                                        It's a stunning room. I may have to go back.

                                      2. re: david de berkeley

                                        I guess I need to go back on a quiet night, because any time I've been there it's been almost impossible to get in and completely impossible to get a seat. That's aside from the drunkards pouring out of the walls (so it seems) and the pounding music. I had time to catch a glimpse of what looked like a beautiful bar before I escaped back outdoors. This has happened at least four or five times.

                                        1. re: Pei

                                          On three separate occasions I've had a walk right in/walk right out experience there because the place was crowded and a bit of a scene. No dig on the place, I just haven't found it to be conducive to casual conversation. It was always in the evening after a show or dinner, so I guess it depends on what time & what day of the week you go. Gel up your hair, put on a shiny shirt and go there with your loud friends, and it's probably a great time.

                                          1. re: Pei

                                            thinking about it, I think most of my visits have been late afternoon/early evening, just after they open (don't think they are open all afternoon). No problem getting a cozy seat. I used to do a lot of meetings at the Monaco in the next block, and we'd head to the Clift when the meetings were over...