Bars/Dinner before Ballgame [San Francisco]
Hi folks, I'm flying in from Philly in two weeks for a whirlwind weekend in SF. I'm looking to make some loose plans, and the first is where would be a good place for an early dinner and some drinks before going to a Giants game?
I'm looking for a gastropub type place, somewhere we can order a couple different things and maybe get a cocktail if we want to change it up from beer. We're not looking for a quiet, sit down type place. From my initial searches, something like Trou Normand looked great but from what I understand it's brand new and super trendy right now. That would be towards the high end of something that I'm looking for. Low end would be good, cheap burger but with a good bar.
It doesn't need to be something specific, it could be kick-ass tacos with good, real margaritas with a fun bar, or an izakaya type place. Basically I'm looking for something fun and lively before the game. My crowd will be late 20's-early 30's, so we're past the drink-our-faces-off (though certainly not above it) phase of our lives, and nobody is scared of a $15 burger or $12 cocktail. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!
The classic "ballpark places" are 21st amendment, Tres (was agaves, is now just Tres?), Momo's (right across the street), Thirsty Bear (more of a convention center place but not really that far). The benefit of all of these places is they are fairly large, and can swallow a group (don't know how many you are). All feature alcohol. All are lively, all all have compatriots going to the game. Of these, I prefer 21st Amendment, it's got the most SF style, although the food's average at best.
Being larger places capable of moving a lot of food before a ballgame, the food at each of these is a bit more mainstream. Of the ones I listed, I might suggest Tres has the best food (if you order well - I remember some great slow cooked meats, although that was a few owners ago), then Thirsty Bear, then 21st A, then Momo's. I would not normally recommend Momo's but the patio before a game is right at the park (the park looms over the patio). Someone mentioned Mission Rock Resort - great water view, just haven't been there in forever.
You should also consider Paragon, which is a little generic but probably has a better food/bar combination than others, Hotel Utah (a real SF institution with a 100+ year bar but with a very basic kitchen), Brickhouse (never been).
What gets interesting is if you're willing to consider a longer walk or short cab ride. Then I might recommend looking into Triple Voodoo. If you can order food from Serpentine (one of the better burgers in the city), that would be a score (serpentine is a little small and quite for you, but does have SF flava, very good food, very good bar. Take a look at a map - what about Zeitgeist? Too far? Freshest beer in the city, great patio action, very local and lively scene, burgers only.
From what you say about Trou Normand (and we're all speculating based on the pictures because there have been few reports) this doesn't look like a lively pre-ballpark place, or "gastropub-ish". Like Bar Agricole, it's meant to be lively for high quality dining. If you're looking for something more like that, that's where Flytrap and Serpentine would come in (and Salt House, Prospect's bar, even Boulevard's bar area if you hit at the right time, Waterbar, Skool, AQ, TBD). All of those places would be on most people's list of top-100 restaurants in SF (unlike 21st A, Thirsty Bear...), and just happen to also be a long walk / short cab to the ballpark.
Doing some research, I would also strongly consider Victory Hall. I haven't been, haven't seen reports, but it's got some good press and would be the right kind of place.
Also recognize that two places close to the ballpark - Saison and Benu - are really serious restaurants, michelin 2 stars. Both have serious bars ("cocktail programs"), Saison has a bar tasting menu, Benu must have a bar because everything in that space previously always has a bar. That would be very SF - grabbing a drink & bite at one of those bars before a game - although the cocktail prices are likely over $12.
Tres hasn't changed hands. A couple of partners pulled out after it had been open a couple of years.
I went to Pedro's Cantina once, it wasn't bad. I've tried most of the bars and restaurants around there and the only one I wanted to go back to was Marlowe, which does not have a full bar.
Benu does not have a bar unfortunately. Saison discontinued serving food at the bar although supposedly that will change in about a month (bar nibbles). Their bar is pretty quiet but the bartenders there really know their stuff. There is also the bar at Alexander's which is more mainstream than Saison (although not what I would call lively) and you can get a wagyu burger there (not listed on the menu) if you get there before they run out. There is the bar at the Alchemist but their drinks are too citrus/mezcal/habanero centric for my tastes. PS. If you feel like doing something different and your group is keen on cocktails, you might be able to call in advance and ask to speak to the bartender (Chase) at Saison, to put together a punch bowl for your group (Chatham Artillery punch http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/01/din... or similar). Maybe he can even float some flaming boats on it (see my avatar for an example, hollowed out lime halves filled with flaming VSOP chartreuse)
Too bad about Benu not having a bar. I was actually also thinking about the space that was Ecco for a while in South Park, which doesn't seem to have a restaurant now.
Saison says on one of their pages you can reserve their bar area - but doesn't claim food, so that makes sense.
I thought about Alexander's but it seems generic for someone coming from Philly.
Marlowe's is very nice, I finally had the burger there a few weeks back, but small before a ball game, and beer wine only.
To set your expectations, a place like Sepico in PHL would fit in nicely. We have probably a half dozen places about like that - and they're all very popular, like Rich Table and AQ and Namu Gaji and similar. A place like Serpentine has a simpler, more ingredient driven menu, still very tasty but not as creative - a common california farm-to-table thing.
Let me stick up for Flytrap again. It's a more SF experience (the kind of place Farmer's Cabinet wants to be), and the food is very good and creative.
If it were me, I wouldn't eat near the ballpark, it's a bit of a dead zone down there.. but if you must:
Momo's can be way too crowded, and I would skip Pedro's as the food isn't that great. The food next door at Pete's Tavern is better, but it also can be very crowded.
21st amendment is ok if you can get a seat and Tres makes some nice magaritas.