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Friday evening, Union Square area?

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My husband and I are flying into San Francisco next Friday afternoon. We're from MN, meeting good friends up from San Diego for a couples' weekend. None of us have been to SF in several years. We're staying in Union Square, arriving around happy hour...
I'm sure we'll all be bushed, but haven't seen each other in ages, cocktails and smart talk will be the primary objective.
My thought is that we probably could meet at our hotel and walk in any direction to find great food and drink, but could anyone make some recommendations for happy hour, dinner, and cocktail destinations for us? We'll be getting the "lay of the land, " so walking around would be great. I expect that we'll all be tired from the week and travel. We're foodies, but atmosphere would trump the food (fun, casual, friendly), since it's more about catching up and enjoying each other in the new locale...Any neighborhood jems? Any recommendations for navigating on a Friday night?
I saw the recent post for the big 30 birthday -- would the recommendations of La Mar for HH, Perbacco or BIX, and Top of the Mark stand for four "closer to 40 than 30-somethings" who will likely be feeling pretty beat (and quite thirsty)?

230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

Top of the Mark
Number One Nob Hill, San Francisco, CA 94108

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  1. All of those suggestions are great for adults of all ages, though I might nix Bix because it's louder than any of the others. I wouldn't want to go there after a long flight.

    Closer to the hotel, in case you're very tired indeed:

    -Clock Bar in the Westin St. Francis gets good reviews
    -the lobby bar in the Sir Francis Drake does a nice happy hour. Sit at the bar or lounge at the sofas, there's a list of drinks that are buy one get one for 28 cents (to celebrate the fact that the hotel opened in 1928). No food besides olives and the like, though. You could dine at Scala's after. There are more interesting eats nearby, but Scala's is a solid choice for the "too tired to venture" crowd.
    -If you can get a reservation, Bourbon and Branch is QUIET. Drinks are really creative, and you get table service at your own booth. If you can't swing a reservation, however, skip it. The room where they send walk-ins is deafening.
    -Cafe Claude. Claude Lane is a small alley near Union Square, not as famous as restaurant packed Belden Alley just a few blocks away. However, the restaurant is small, cozy, quiet, and the food and service were both lovely.

    56 Gold St., San Francisco, CA 94133

    1 Reply
    1. re: Pei

      Wow. Terrific! Thanks!

    2. E&O Trading (Asian fusion) on Sutter St (near Grant) is another great place for happy hour. Also, the Belden Lane alley has a several French/Mediterranean restos--B44, Plouf (excellent mussels), etc.--with outdoor seating.

      40 Belden Place, San Francisco, CA 94104

      1. Yes, La Mar would be a good choice if you don't mind the price tag.

        Aside from the view, Top of the Mark is boring and overpriced, and your companions will be over 60 or on expense accounts.

        Bix has great martinis, a beautiful atmosphere, and decent if pricey food. It will be packed on a Friday though, so if you want to do anything but stand crammed in, make a dinner reservation.

        A few places for happy hour not far from Union Square:
        B bar on top of the fountain at Yerba Buena Center
        Tropisueno at Yerba Buena Lane for Mexican food and drinks
        Farmer Brown's for southern food and cocktails

        Union Square is a shopping and hotel district. If you want neighborhood gems, you'll need to go to neighborhoods where people live. It sounds like that would be easier when you're less tired over the weekend (which incidentally is our huge gay pride celebration).

        56 Gold St., San Francisco, CA 94133

        Farmer Brown
        25 Mason Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

        Top of the Mark
        Number One Nob Hill, San Francisco, CA 94108

        75 Yerba Buena Lane, San Francisco, CA 94103

        3 Replies
        1. re: Windy

          I'm surprised you didn't mention Fifth Floor. Nice quiet bar with good food. Shouldn't be too packed on Pride Weekend. I don't know if they do anything for happy hour, though.

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

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            Free corkage at Fifth Floor (and other Kimpton hotels) through Labor Day.

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

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              Yeah, forgot about it again. Although the atmosphere is more elegant than fun, but it's quiet. And the food's awfully good.

          2. First, if you're looking for some place great in the way you're talking about, maybe it'll be crowded. That area, union square, is full of hotels and short on "gems", so what's there gets a little mobbed. On a friday night. And, as Robert mentioned, Pride Weekend. If you want to stay in your walking parameters, you might hvae to compromise on food or atmosphere. There are plenty of little places in that area which are "fine" but nothing special.


            Gitane is cozy, excellent bar, hip, good food, 2 blocks off union square. I'd stop there first, and if it's too crowded, continue on to Belden Place.

            Walk over to Belden Place and choose from the 4 sidewalk restaurants (plouf and whatever the others are). Convivial little alley. Best on a warm evening when they can use the outside tables. None of the places are long on cocktails, though.

            Or - If you're wiling to take a short cab ride (or walk a little further), get an actual reservation at Coi lounge. Relaxed good cocktails Michelin-2-star food. For some reason oft overlooked.

            Or - there are a cluster of decent places down by the end of market street that fulfill all your requirements. Waterbar, RN74, Chaya, Slanted Door, Boulevard, La Mar, Mexico DF. All are spen-sive The area is a great first evening in SF because you enjoy the majestic arch of the bay bridge, take a post or pre-prandial walk along the embarcadero, enjoy the sculptures. Just tell the cabbie "ferry building" - it'll be 5 minutes at most.

            That would be my choice. Get a rez at one of the embarcadero places, leave a few hours before in case flights are late, and if you're early laze a bit along the water, or relax at one of the bars (SD's bar is particularly wonderful).

            I'm a fan of the top of the mark, especially their dance evenings, it's not lively and hip and SF. Go elsewhere.

            Slanted Door
            Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

            Mexico DF
            139 Steuart Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

            Belden Place
            44 Belden Pl, San Francisco, CA 94104

            Gitane Restaurant & Bar
            6 Claude Lane, San Francisco, CA 94108

            301 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94105

            1. Perbacco is my favorite moderately/moderately expensive restaurant downtown and is walkable. I love the atmosphere of Scala's, and it is right off the square, but it is not quite at the same level of quality.

              230 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111

              1. Thanks, all. For the terrific tips. Gotta love this board!

                1. Also, Postrio's nice.

                  Postrio Cafe & Bar
                  545 Post St., San Francisco, CA 94102