A good hotel bar is a happy place, an elegant but relaxed haven where gussied up guests—locals and tourists alike—mix in right alongside post-work corporate casual and fresh-off-the-ferry explorers still in their sneaks and Alcatraz sweatshirts. The very atmosphere casts a more glamorous sheen over everyone. By the varied nature of their clientele, a constant stream of strangers, hotel bars carry just a hint of chance and mystery, and a sense that anything could happen.
Here’s a roundup of our favorites.
There’s no dearth of hotel bars in downtown San Francisco: the classics (e.g. Top of the Mark and the Starlight Room) to the modern lounges conveniently clustered on Geary Boulevard around Taylor Street (Hotel Monaco, Hotel Adagio, and so on). But apart from the tired, contrived, and sometimes creepy ones, these classics rise above the rest.
The Redwood Room at the Clift Hotel is a delight of “lodge deco”—as if Nick and Nora Charles shined up the Ahwahnee Hotel. Beautifully designed and decked out in wood panels and Art Deco details, this place exudes class and a chic sense of humor. The real action is at the back of the lobby—the Redwood Room—where the paintings slide and shift and a DJ keeps the night crowd lively with subdued house music. The bar itself, with its towering mirrored display, is breathtaking. For a quieter experience (i.e. where visitors can have an intimate conversation), check out The Living Room directly across from registration. Same booze, but with lush sofas and deep sinking club chairs.
This lush bar might best be described as Mad Men set in the woods, with tables and counters fashioned from gorgeous slabs of trees surrounded by low-slung Danish modern furniture. For a more cosmopolitan setting, enjoy the handcrafted cocktails in The Lounge with the skyline for company.
After a whirlwind shopping tour in Union Square, the Clock Bar at the St. Francis offers a lovely and easily accessible respite from the crowds—as well as a great stiff drink. It’s small, but comfortable and worth a stop for the tired and chilled.
(In a case of an exception proving the rule, honorable mention does go to the Tonga Room, which, for those with a sense of humor and a yearning for balmier climes, offers that unique tiki bar experience—really, who can resist drinks served in coconut shells with umbrellas?)
Located in the posh Claremont Hotel, this bar is spare and modern without being cold. Paragon offers stunning views of the sunset and the San Francisco skyline, especially pretty when it’s lit up at twilight. Take advantage of East Bay weather and enjoy cocktails on the deck. Live jazz Fridays and Saturdays.
Five is actually a restaurant in the Hotel Shattuck with a sweet bar and lounge that’s very easily accessible by BART (downtown Berkeley station). Make sure to catch the “after hour happy hour” offered everyday from 7-9pm.
Since the 1930s, the Hotel De Anza has presided over downtown San Jose’s sparkling social scene. The beauty of the hotel is amplified by its storied past (one of San Jose’s few Zig Zag Moderne buildings). Inside, visitors can relax in the Hedley Club Lounge amidst art deco elegance. Settle back in a plush armchair or enjoy a table on the patio and, with Al Green softly crooning, you can actually enjoy a conversation. Live jazz Thursday-Saturday evenings.
Located off Cesar Chavez park, the Fairmont boasts not one but three hotel bar options: the Pagoda, the Bamboo Lounge, and The Grill. Skip the first two and go straight to The Grill, which has an elegant Rat Pack feel with deep leather booths and a build-your-own martini menu. It also has a patio and great people watching.
The Pelican Inn transports you to another time and place: an English inn and pub tucked onto the rocky ledge of the Marin Headlands. Dark and cozy, it’s the perfect foil for coastal fog. Hike from Tennessee Valley and enjoy a pint by the fire as a reward. Enjoy a meal at the restaurant or take advantage of the pub’s bar menu and warm up with some English comfort food. On nice days, take your lunch on the patio, then stroll down to Muir Beach. (Nice to note that the Pelican takes advantage of its proximity to organic coastal farms and ranches, serving local meats and seasonal vegetables from the Zen Center’s Green Gulch Farm next door.)
Tucked under the Golden Gate Bridge, Farely Bar at Cavallo Point offers stunning views of San Francisco, the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge—day or night. The bar has a distinct Northern California charm with a beautiful antique tin ceiling, leather club chairs and fireplaces. Enjoy drinks inside or out (they even provide blankets on the outdoor patio to keep stargazers warm in the evening). Music Monday nights.
- By Deb Zambetti