Dining at the Bar, San Francisco

| October 9, 2006 | 1 Comment
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There’s an episode of Sex and the City where Carrie Bradshaw is “dating New York” — she is between boyfriends, and decides to use the time alone to go out to eat, go to museums, and enjoy her city. At one point, she walks into a diner.

“Singles at the counter. SINGLES, COUNTER!” shouts the waiter, embarrassing Carrie, banishing her to the singles area along with other social rejects and announcing to the entire restaurant that this woman is alone and single.

In general, I don’t mind eating alone. I have done it all my life, and quite enjoy it. And due to a change in my current circumstances, I have been eating alone quite a bit. But every so often, I worry that I am going to have a waiter yell at me like we saw on Sex and the City. Luckily for us, San Francisco is a great place to dine alone.

Personally, I like eating at bars when I am by myself. And often when I am with one other person or on a date, I find the bar to be comfortable and more intimate than a table as well. Bars often provide great service, you can chat with the bartender or others if you feel like it, and I like the bird’s eye view of things that I get that’s different from table dining. Most importantly, very often, you can walk into the busiest restaurants in town and sit at the bar without reservations and be seated much more quickly than if you were waiting for a table.

Excellent bar dining in the City, to me, is defined by several factors:

* It must have bar service that is on par with, or better than, the table service.
* I must feel comfortable going alone.
* The food must be consistently excellent and delicious.

Some of my favorite places in San Francisco to eat at the bar are as follows.

A16
2355 Chestnut Street
San Francisco
(415) 771-2216
Open for dinner nightly and lunch Wednesday – Friday

At A16, you can sometimes walk into the restaurant and be seating immediately at the bar — especially if it’s early in the dinner service. You can also request bar seating when making your reservation, and I have had that request accommodated nine times out of ten.

Absinthe
398 Hayes Street
San Francisco
(415) 551-1590
Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner.

Absinthe and Hayes Street Grill (see below) are two places where I feel that the bar environment is much different from the dining room environment. Absinthe has a lively bar, delicious hamburgers, and you can usually find a seat — especially if dining at off-hours (think Saturday afternoon at three, for a martini and a burger – perfect).

Florio
1915 Fillmore Street
San Francisco
(415) 775-4300
Open for dinner nightly.

Florio is a neighborhood favorite. Bar service at this tiny bar is complete with cloth napkins and a friendly bartender. The bar seats about six people, so seating is limited, but this restaurant is highly recommended.

Hayes Street Grill
320 Hayes Street
San Francisco
(415) 863-5545
Open for dinner nightly and for lunch during the week.

When I am craving Hayes Street Grill, I usually call and ask them if it’s a performance night. If it is, then I come later in the evening after everything has started. If not, I know that bar seating will most likely be available. This restaurant is so close to the SF performing arts district that the traffic here is HIGHLY dependent on what’s going on that evening.

The bartenders here are great, and the food is delicious — if, like me, you’re into plain, fresh fish and crispy fries. Pair that with a drink using Hangar One vodka, which they stock, and you’re set.

Pesce
2227 Polk Street
San Francisco
(415) 928-8025
Open for dinner nightly and for lunch on weekends.

The picture at the top of this post is from the bar at Pesce. This wildly popular restaurant on Polk in the Russian Hill area holds back all of their ample bar seating for walk-ins. Service is always pleasant, and the Venetian cichetti they serve here are the best in the city.

Star dishes for me at this restaurant are the braised octopus with potatoes and celery, and the smoked fish platter.

In addition to the places above where I have personally eaten at the bar, I have heard great things about bar dining at Gary Danko, NOPA, Boulevard, The Slanted Door and Delfina.

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About the Author ()

"My passion for food began young." I am the editor of the influential website www.EatLocalChallenge.com which encourages readers to support local farmers and producers. I began my personal website, Life Begins at 30, in 2003. I have been published in Edible San Francisco and Fine Cooking, write regularly for Bay Area Bites, Serious Eats, and have been quoted in many nationwide publications. Photography is a passion, and I have had photos printed in National Geographic Traveler and Travel + Leisure. I contributed to a Williams-Sonoma cookbook: Cooking from the Farmers' Market, which was released in February 2010. I live in San Francisco, California and can often be found at local farmers markets seeking out the best of what's in season and chatting with farmers.