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A Clean, Low-Lit Place

Heading to SF next month for the first time in years and was wondering if anyone can recommend two things?

One, I'd like to find a small, quaint off-the-beaten path and quiet restaurant where the food is good and the atmosphere is cozy. The type of place that Hemingway might write about. Any suggestions?

Two, I'd love to find a rat pack-esque lounge à la Mad Men...dark, with lighting at the tables, circular padded booths, silky lounge singer. Does that exist anywhere outside of TV-land?

Thanks for any suggestions...

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  1. Forgot to mention...I'll be staying at a hotel near the Moscone Center, so the closer to there the better. Thanks again!

    5 Replies
    1. re: madmenlounge

      For a rat-packesque lounge, you might want to check out Bix. Not much in SF is off the beaten track, but it sounds like you might like La Ciccia.

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      La Ciccia
      291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

      Bix
      56 Gold St., San Francisco, CA 94133

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        I second the recommendation for Bix. They do have live jazz, though I've never seen a silky lounge singer there.

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        Bix
        56 Gold St., San Francisco, CA 94133

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          La Ciccia is charming, but not quiet except maybe for the first hour of business.

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          La Ciccia
          291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            La Ciccia is the noisiest restaurant i've ever been to. Never again.

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            La Ciccia
            291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

          2. re: Ruth Lafler

            Another vote for Bix.
            Tho I haven't dined there in a few years, it used to be stellar (if not also pricey) food.
            And great martinis.

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            Bix
            56 Gold St., San Francisco, CA 94133

        2. For the lounges, might not be able to get all of these requirements at once.

          Bourbon and Branch has the lighting you want and excellent cocktails, but I'm not sure there are any circular padded booths and AFAIK there is no live entertainment.

          Tosca Cafe in North Beach might be closest in terms of the 1950s vibe, but again, no entertainment. Not really a fan of the place, although if you like Irish coffee-type drinks it could be good.

          Has anyone been to Savanna Jazz recently? That could fit the bill in terms of singing (you would have to check the calendar to see if you think you will like the music that night), but I've only peeked through the windows so I have no idea if the bar is any good.

          In general my feeling is that the incentives in SF push most restaurants and bars away from the kind of places you are describing. With high rents and intense competition, the economics favor places that can do high volume - which means they are loud. The exceptions like Acquerello are likelier to feel more formal than cozy. Though if you really want off-the-beaten-path, maybe somewhere like Outerlands would be good?

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          Savanna Jazz
          2937 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

          Acquerello Restaurant
          1722 Sacramento St., San Francisco, CA 94109

          1 Reply
          1. re: bigwheel042

            Savannah Jazz varies completely based on who's booked. Just heard a great old school jazz quintet at Sheba Lounge on Fillmore; they also serve Ethiopian food. The place that used to be Rasselas on California and Divis might work.

            Agree with Tosca and Bix, and Vesuvio.

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            Sheba Lounge
            1419 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94115

            Bix
            56 Gold St., San Francisco, CA 94133

            Vesuvio Cafe
            255 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

          2. The booths at Tadich's or Sam's might be for you. Maybe House of Shields.

            Tosca was the first place that popped into my head for drinks. It's got booths, and a 40's vibe, where the bartenders still wear white jackets. It's the real thing, not a replication, but it's not a supper club. Vesuvio across is a different mood, and era, but features alcoves and some old flavor.

            Nearby is a new place called Le Bordeaux on Union which isn't exactly off the beaten path, but it's not yet on the radar of the trendy food crowd. It's a chef owned and run establishment, serving simple regional French in a rustic old space frozen in time. The focus is steaks, a simply prepared fish of the day, duck breast, that kind of thing, and while I can't guess what Hemingway would say about the BYOB policy, he would certainly approve of the incredible fries fried in goose fat. I've been shocked how tasty the food is here. One of the cities hidden gems.

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            Vesuvio Cafe
            255 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

            9 Replies
            1. re: sugartoof

              Sam's Bar and Grill (corner of Belden and Bush) popped into my head as well. easy walk from Moscone across Market I like Tosca, but the lighting sucks and once the adjacent nightclub gets bumping the opera and jazz laden jukebox gets drowned out. Bix does have a good space and vibe but it is sort of a Disney "Roger Rabbit" vision.

              grab a copy of some of Herb Caen's later columns and see what's still around, too bad Ernie's is long gone.

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              Bix
              56 Gold St., San Francisco, CA 94133

              1. re: hill food

                Tosca can be bright. I find sitting at the bar has more mood than the booths, which feel a little more soda fountain like for some reason.

                I wonder if the Dashiel Hammet tour stops at any bars?

                1. re: sugartoof

                  I wouldn't take it if it didn't, can't watch any "Thin Man" movie w/o a stiff cocktail. and to the OP: just a few blocks from Sam's is an alley renamed Dashiell Hammett Place (just West of Stockton off Bush) that has a small plaque/memorial outside where he lived for a while. (and for extra credit movie trivia while in the alley look down the hill at the laundry and name the movie that Barbra Streisand and Ryan O'Neal rode a delivery bike in through the storefront)

                  another question arose for the OP, a place Hemingway would write about then or now? quite a few of that type closed during/after the dot-bomb boom

                  1. re: hill food

                    The Bush Street site is Burritt Alley/Street and it's plaque reads"On approximately this spot MILES ARCHER, PARTNER OF SAM SPADE, was done in by BRIGID O'SHAUGHNESSY."

                    Dashiell Hammett place is elsewhere.

                    "The former Monroe Street is a one-block street that starts at Pine St and rushes quickly downhill to Bush. Today, the street signs (one at either end of the block) read "DASHIELL HAMMETT MONROE". The red brick building at number 20 sports an awning emblazoned with "DASHIELL HAMMETT PLACE."
                    As I remember Aziza might fit "small, quaint off-the-beaten path and quiet restaurant where the food is good and the atmosphere is cozy". It's certainly off the beaten path.

                    1. re: wolfe

                      ...providing the OP doesn't mind contemporary approaches to the food/decor.

                      1. re: sugartoof

                        Great suggestions from everyone. Thanks! I've been checking out your suggestions and they've all been spot on.

                        sugartoof, it's not that I mind contemporary approaches to food/decor...that's just what I see most often really, so I've been yearning for a more classic ambience--the comfortable, cushioned, candlelit setting as opposed to the brightly-lit, loud, "small hard chair" setting. You know what I mean?

                        hill food...I've been in this sentimental kick lately, watching lots of classic film noir, etc. so I realize now I was imagining what Hemingway would have written about back in the day. What would he write about now? That's an interesting question...hmmmm...

                        P.S. hill food... okay, give me my extra points. The answer is "What's up, Doc?"

                        1. re: madmenlounge

                          It's a really good request actually. What you'll find is we have a lot of places which blend contemporary and classic at the same time...that both meet your description, but aren't ultimately likely to be what you're after.

                          The bar at Spruce comes to mind. It's throwback in approach, makes a great burger, and charcuterie, and all the rest, but it's designed by Williams Sonoma. Would be all the things you want, but too contemporary.

                          I wonder if the Brazen Head might fit. It's more pub than cozy cushions, but there's something literary about the place.

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                          Brazen Head
                          3166 Buchanan St, San Francisco, CA 94123

                          1. re: madmenlounge

                            oh I made that too obvious...

                            Wolfe, thanks for the details. huh, I lived around the corner for three years, is Burrit the dead end one off Bush? 'cause I did mean the one between Bush and Pine. it does have a noir-ish feel at 1 AM in the fog. did John's Grill ever get their Maltese Falcon back?

                            OP: the cool thing about SF is that despite the constant updating and redoing, elements of that era can still be found although usually in poky areas and take a lot of research and walking.

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                            John's Grill
                            63 Ellis Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                            1. re: madmenlounge

                              I have a suggestion but unfortunately it's not on our board, Botin.

                              . I would rather dine on suckling pig at Botin's that sit and think of casualties my friends have suffered." - Ernest Hemingway, from Death in the Afternoon (end of Chapter 10

                              BTW Aziza http://sf.eater.com/uploads/2009_02_a...

                2. You might check out Comstock. Booths with their own lamps, sometimes live music (there's a piano on the little balcony), more Gold Rush than Rat Pack, though.

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                  Comstock Saloon
                  155 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Also 15 Romolo is close by. More noir than cozy, but it's a certainly a throwback of some sort.

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                    15 Romolo
                    15 Romolo Pl, San Francisco, CA 94133

                  2. An exceptional value as well, I would suggest Helmand Palace for the quiet, cozy restaurant.

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                    Helmand Palace
                    2424 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94109