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Restaurants and cocktail bar close to Fairmont Hotel [San Francisco]

I will be at a conference next month at the Fairmont Hotel. Since it is hard to make reservations when you can't really predict when the last conference session will end I am looking for recommendations for restaurants within walking distance where you have a good chance as a solo diner to get a table without reservation. I am open to any kind of cuisine from tasting menus to small ethnic places.
In addition I am also looking for good cocktail bars within walking distance

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    1. re: honkman

      The Fairmont is at the top of a very steep hill, so "walking distance" is kind of an iffy criterion. Consider taking a cab (people will say take the cable car, but it's ridiculously expensive) or a bus a short hop down the hill.

      I think your question is both too broad (not enough info about what day of the week and what time frame you're talking about, not specific enough about what you're really looking for) and too narrow (walking distance from Fairmont).

      You might want to look at some of the recent solo diner threads. San Francisco is very solo-diner friendly and there are many, many restaurants where you can get a seat and be served at the bar pretty easily.

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        Thanks for the reply. Days will be Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and I look at places most likely around 7-8pm. Steeps hills are not so much an issue and I would consider at least one mile easily within walking distance. It is a little bit hard to evaluate from Google maps if for example Cotogna is within walking distance and more importantly how likely is it to get a table on these days without reservation. So i was hoping people would give especially advice on some good restaurants where the chance of getting a table is good without reservations.

        1. re: honkman

          To give you a sense of how steep is steep, some of the access streets to Nob Hill (your hotel's neighborhood) are unsafe for cars and are blocked to automobile traffic. The pedestrian sidewalks on those streets are staircases.

          Some recent visitors who stayed at the Fairmont walked downhill to meet me at Canteen Restaurant. Then I gave them a ride back. Canteen has a counter but I have no idea how easy it is to get a seat without a reservation.

          If all else fails, the walk to Chinatown and its many restaurants is short and fairly easy taking Mason Street over to Clay or Washington and onward. My 90-year-old aunt lives near the hotel and walks to Chinatown every day. The 1 California bus comes up the hill on Sacramento St from the Financial District and Chinatown and stops across the street from the hotel if your legs poop out on the return trip.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            When I worked at 50 California, every time I looked up California St. I would think of Tony Bennett singing, "where little cable cars, climb halfway to the stars..."

            If someone is willing to walk down California St. there's Perbacco, the more casual but still delicious Barbacco and the classic Tadich, all of which are good for solo diners.

          2. re: honkman

            Yes, I would consider Cotogna within walking distance, especially since it's in the slightly easier to walk direction (through Chinatown). That's generally a good direction to head, since there are other good restaurants and bars in that general neighborhood.

            1. re: honkman

              " get a table on these days without reservation." Is bar seating okay?

              Haven't been but high end Keiko a Nob Hill, close to the hotel, has received very good reviews. Though not as extensive as the dining room menu, bar area does serve food...hounds? Or you can call them to confirm. This may be a good option for Sunday. Others are Farallon & Wayfare Tavern. Looks like Opentable allows reservations for 1...you can check day of.

              For other days, agree with recs for Cotogna, Perbacco...some of the best Italian SF has to offer.

        2. I will toss a couple of ideas in, but it is not possible to know what for you is walking distance, especially since you are staying on the top of a steep hill in a hotel zone with not too many chowy-choices nearby.

          For drinks, Burritt Room or Rickhouse are somewhat close; Comstock Saloon has both food and drink.

          Park Tavern, Original Joe's or L'Osteria Del Forno in North Beach are all likely to have a spot for one for dinner, depending on your timing. You might consider calling on your way, and asking for a last minute spot.

          And though the tiki drinks are not up to the standard of Smuggler's Cove, you should stop in at the Tonga Room in the Fairmont if you have not seen it before.

          1. Tonga room at the Fairmont is a classic..
            There is another place, in the hotel that is higher end that is great for drinks and apps..think its called Laurel.

            That hill is wicked and you will be sober climbing back home.
            Drinks at the St. Francis in Union Square with the jazz in the main lobby is lovely.

            Lefty's across the street is one of my fave's.
            Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista is a must and take the cable car.
            Tadich for sand dabs at the counter for late lunch.
            These are my fave's as a tourist in SF.

            Have fun!

            1. Cocktail bars , of note, a downhill walk from the Fairmont Hotel. My favorite is the Redwood Room at the Clift Hotel. The Clock Bar at the St. Francis is a classic. The bar at the Tadich Grill is a great spot. All on the high end and then there is Lefty O'Doul's just across the street from the St. Francis which is lets say more on the other end, but a quite well known San Francisco bar.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Bacchus101

                I'll add Gitane to this list. Though not a cocktail bar in the true sense, they have a very nice bar area with fantastic cocktails. Closed Sun.

              2. Don't let the hill intimidate you. The California cable car is your friend and runs with great frequency. A multi-day Passport knocks the per-trip price way down.

                The Tonga Room is for tourists and should be avoided at all costs. Drinks at the bar at Bix are vastly superior.

                You might want to check out Cotogna. I like dining at the bar there. The bar at Quince, the more up-scale brother to Cotogna, is next door and well worth a visit for food and libation. Barbacco is an excellent place for small plates and wine. SPQR, in the opposite direction, is outstanding.

                Lots of other places.

                5 Replies
                1. re: steve h.

                  Walk down, take the 1-California back up.

                  The Tonga Room is a kick and way more than just tourists. San Franciscans worked very hard to save it when the Fairmont announced their new condo tower. Haven't heard what the final result of that was.

                  1. re: steve h.

                    The Tonga Room is a fun campy experience worth doing once, or even once every 10-20 years. Get one drink, see the show, go somewhere else for dinner and/or more drinks.

                    The city rejected the condo conversion plan and the owners who proposed it sold the hotel.


                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Thanks for the update. Tonga Room is kinda like Beach Blanket. As you say, gotta do it once. Ooh, btw, is BBB still running. It's not something I've looked for when in NB.

                      Also, thanks for the Fairmont update. Not something I've been following.

                    2. re: steve h.

                      "You might want to check out Cotogna. I like dining at the bar there."

                      Love Cotogna and eating at the bar is very nice. Just keep in mind that eating at the counter where the wood burning oven is located can get quite a bit toasty if seated directly in its path.

                    3. Similar question from a few months ago (the Mark Hopkins is across the street from the Fairmont):


                      A solo diner would have a fair chance of getting a seat at the counter at Cotogna.

                      1. The "Big 4" lounge and restaurant in the Huntinton Hotel is just down the street at the top of the hill. It is one of the best bars in the city and is Old San Francisco, sophisticated and civilized. That's where I'd go.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Paul H

                          Quite right on the "Big 4" and for a lovely view "the top of the Mark", a should do and see at least once.

                        2. Thanks everybody for a lot of interesting and helpful suggestions

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: honkman

                            Right in your neighborhood, you might want to check out Parallel 37. There's a new team in the kitchen, former executive chef and pastry chef from Chicago's Charlie Trotter's. Or at least get dessert and tell us about it!


                          2. while Melanie is right that some sidewalks become stairs and some streets just 'end' climbing the hill is not that bad, one just sort of zig zags, you don't just march up Mason or Powell, you take Sutter to Stockton (hold your nose, climb the tunnel steps) then Bush a ways, then the relatively easy climb to Pine and then the last assault on Cal.

                            the Tonga Room and The Mark are worth the jacked-way-beyond-mini-bar prices at least once albeit for very different reasons. Big 4 is indeed nice, but a bit stuffy IMHO. and there are all sorts of louche and amusing places to discover below Sutter for a late night/early AM cocktail (closed between 2 and 6 AM).

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: hill food

                              I can't remember who I was telling about the zigzag route :) Visitors tend to think that everything is up or down a hill. Not at all. And yes to The Mark for a drink. Visitors can think SF is got views galore but it really doesn't downtown. Good points, hf.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                HA! the only folks I remember seeing hiking up the length of California or Sacramento in the middle of the day were tourists or The Twins (sometimes 'shirtless Ken' in the AM).

                                a co-worker liked to get ripped at Li-Po but he lived somewhere around Leavenworth and Hyde (to the OP, Chinatown on Grant, total blast from the Quinn-Martin production past, one expects to see Karl Malden roughing up a suspect in the corner) as he pointed out once; there are all sorts of places to have a nice sit-down on the way home up the hill.

                                1. re: hill food

                                  Ah, yes, "The Twins." Last I read, a couple of years ago, they were still alive.

                                  What's Li-Po?

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    One of the twins passed away recently.

                                    When I was young and stupid I walked all the way up Powell St. once.

                                    FWIW, Anthony Bourdain went to Li Po for his "Layover" program.

                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                      Ruth, thanks for the update.

                                      Wow, Powell is quite the hill. I've walked up California. In high heels which actually makes it easier since it 'levels' out your feet a bit.

                                      Again what is Li Po???

                                      1. re: c oliver

                                        Li-Po - a divey bar on Grant near uhh I forget, like all good dumps it finds you. a bunch of loud older guys playing dice at the counter. and when it gets boring, Buddha is nearby.

                                        sad to hear about the Twins, they are so sweet.

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          And the opposite: trying to walk down Jones in a modest heel, I felt like I was going to face plant! Li Po is a divey cocktail lounge in Chinatown.


                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                            Too true!

                                            I've walked past the Li Po a gazillion times over the decades and recently when I/we go to Bund Shanghai. We LOVE dive bars :)

                              2. The Big 4 at The Huntington Hotel!

                                Restaurant + Cocktail Bar in one... and best dining room/ambiance in the city! Great food! Great cocktails!

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: OliverB

                                  Good chicken pot pie and burgers in the bar listening to piano at Big Four

                                2. PS - Skip The Mark!

                                  Overpriced, door fee, crappy live music, douchey crowds, tourist overload, ugly bright-lit room with zero ambiance and you're lucky if you can even get a table with a view if you're there at peak hours. Not worth it even once imo; way overrated and there are much better views to be had in the city! The Big 4 has way better atmosphere and drinks without the cover or obnoxious crowds! The live background music (piano standards) is also much more appealing and better suited to a classy night out.

                                  10 Replies
                                  1. re: OliverB

                                    re the Mark, I have to disagree, a weeknight at dusk, better if there's light fog has a low douche factor, OK easier around 5 PM and a lower tourist level in Winter. but just one drink and bugger off.

                                    Big 4 has no view and what tourist wants that on top of the hill? may as well go to the Redwood Room at the Clift and perch on designer furniture in a perfect cube of vintage handcut hardwood. Big 4 IS nice, but more a place I'd take in-laws. it's also great for slipping out of a vigil Mass at Grace for a quick nip and back in time for the Benedictus (this is why cathedrals have so many side doors, columns and aisles) but Christmas and Easter are a ways off for now.

                                    1. re: hill food

                                      Agree with you 100%, hill food. IMO, all your points are spot on. Never thought about the cathedral issue though :)

                                      1. re: hill food

                                        It has no view but it's got plenty of atmosphere to spare! The "old world" ambiance paying tribute to the building (former grand Victorian mansion of CP railroad baron) and neighborhood's past is filled with opulent antique furnishings and old photographs of the 1890's Central Pacific Railroad and Gold Rush days. Picture low lighting and dark wood panelled walls with green leather upholstery surrounding a long oak bar that's lined with glasses of single-malts, and an ancient cat propped up on a piano stool in the foyer tappin' out sleepy standards like Stardust, while the kitchen dishes out carnivorous cuts of black and blue game meats. It's wonderful, nothing's changed here!

                                        I'll take that over a boring charmless room with a view anyday; especially one which charges a door cover and hires lame cruise ship bands to entertain drunk tourists.

                                        Huntington has history, class plus great food and cocktails at reasonable price. Top of the Mark offers none of that; just a room that happens to be in a picturesque spot with lots of windows. It could be great, but the ownership and management are clueless and I see no reason to ever go back. That's my 2 cents anyway.

                                        1. re: OliverB

                                          I think you may be missing the point of the rec of The Mark. It's FOR the view and there aren't many places in the city where there IS a view. As far as the charm, food, etc. of the Big Four there are all sorts of places with those things - and they differ wildly of course - but not with view.

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            I haven't missed the point; I just don't think the view is worth putting up with all the strikes against the place. To me a high window in a pretty place does not justify a visit if everything else about the place is so obnoxious, but that's just my opinion. I wanted to love The Mark, I've been twice on two separate ocassions, the last of which we just shook our heads and walked away. Just pick up a focaccia and take the elevator to the top of Coit Tower... or if you're visiting from out of town and want an unbeatable view, go for a Gold Floor Room at The Fiarmont next door. To me a restaurant and/or bar should offer a) inviting ambiance b) good food/drinks c) reasonable value - The Mark misses and strikes out on all three, so I chose to avoid it altogether.

                                            1. re: OliverB

                                              Just read that there's no cover before 9PM.

                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                That's what I remember. I went early evening, before dinner. It was lovely. No music, no cover.

                                                By the way, I've walked from Powell Street BART right up to the top of Nob Hill many times. It's not that bad.

                                                1. re: Glencora

                                                  You're tough! But Powell's better than, what? Mason and Taylor? And I agree. It's a super place for a drink and a view. And then off to dinner.

                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                    even driving a manual transmission up Mason as it hits Cal is a bitch. you really are launching into the unknown at that last second (assuming you're good on the clutch) and can only pray to god no pedestrian is crossing against the light. truly a "Bullitt" moment.

                                              2. re: OliverB

                                                I do have to say the Big 4 would be a better place to take prospective clients/recruits one might meet at a conference. it is relaxed, stellar service, no distractions and you can easily talk (why, oh why did that last point have to become such a rarity?)