The new supper club
San Francisco's flux of dining, drinking, and lounging spots offers everything but the big band.
By Karen Solomon
YOUR GRANDPARENTS WOULD make a night of it. They'd slip into something spiffy, breaking out the best cuff links and the bejeweled evening clutch. A night at the supper club began with meeting friends at the bar for a couple of well-made cocktails (a painfully dry martini, perhaps a sherry for the ladies). As the last few sips gave way to a perfectly chosen wine, they'd meander to the dining room for appetizers. Then dinner, exchanging amusing anecdotes and enjoying the live entertainment, likely a Glenn Miller-esque swing band behind an impressive, tiered bandstand. All was good in the world by the end of a couple bottles and a rack of lamb – the holy trinity of fine drink, food, and music were what one did for entertainment.
And the more things change, the more they stay the same. It's been 60 years since the heyday of those first supper clubs, and that scene has all but dwindled to a retro relic. Now, however, the supper club has transformed itself and is back with a velvet-roped vengeance, as evidenced by the number of all-inclusive food, libation, and lazing establishments that have opened of late. Stopping in for a drink will instantly impress your date more than any corner bar. A shared dessert or a tiptoe down the small-plates menu will make any evening memorable, and you won't get the snarky server attitude you might if you tried this kind of light nibbling from a restaurant menu. Or, if your wallet can take it, there's the full evening out: drinks, then dinner, then more drinks, set to a modern techno or downtempo pulse. The horn player may be out of a job, but the tradition continues.
Stephane Gioe and Matyas Tamas at Frisson. photo by Mirissa Neff
Indeed, today's supper clubs have a new twist, a hipper vibe, a younger crowd, and certainly a different soundtrack, as demonstrated by the positively stunning Frisson (244 Jackson, S.F. 415-956-3004, www.frissonsf.com), a perfect argument for returning to the long evening out. The round room with its pink-lit dome roof illuminates an artistically arranged bouquet of warm orange banquettes – there's not a bad seat in this art house. Here the restaurant is actually louder than the dim and seductive bar, with equally sumptuous seating and incredibly flattering light projected only by three large bubble screens (so flattering, in fact, that I and my date, as old as dirt, were carded). Figures are dark and distant – but you may still be able to spot the odd society girl wearing her Burberry best.
Dinner, dessert, or simply drinks can be had from Frisson's bar, accompanied by excellent downtempo spinning from inside an impressively high-tech DJ booth. The vibe is all relaxation and conversation and oh, the lubrication! I cannot recommend the signature drink menu enough, especially the Moroccan daiquiri (Bacardi O, mango puree, limoncello, coconut, lime, and cardamom essence served tall with a sliver of ice) and the Pomegranate Manhattan (Maker's Mark, pomegranate molasses, cynar, and orange bitters). Even if you don't stay for dinner (excellent but steep since Frisson's reconfiguring to a large-plates menu that hovers around $30 a dish), dessert is an exquisite splurge. Try on the seasonal fruit soufflé with curry spices, a coconut center, and chocolate sorbet, or the entirely affordable and addictive house-made fudgesicles; the "pixies," like the stix, but made with real fruit essences; or the bite-size caramelized brioche. The warm colors and deep sounds make for a hot night ahead.
But not as hot as at Myth (470 Pacific, S.F. 415-677-8986, www.mythsf.com) in the old MC2 space, where on a recent visit I had the pleasure of walking in on a couple pretzel-twisted into a passionate make-out grope. That's easy to do at Myth, where there are massive brick walls to hide behind and cavernous nooks and crannies for a good, long smooch. The crowd was quite mixed – plenty of dates (though few seemed to be going this well), along with a couple tables of girlfriends and a few gray-haired pairs oohhing and aahhing over the extensive wine list.
And it's the wine list that will call you to Myth's stunning front-of-house bar. Every bottle seems to be chosen with care by sommelier Alex Fox, who walks the room in the hopes of helping you choose the proper complement to the outstanding prosciutto, caramelized onion, and pear pizza; the awe-inspiring sweetbread, shiitake, bacon, and green bean warm salad; or the no-fuss burger. Many patrons dine at the bar, top collar buttons undone, after work or on their way out, but there's plenty of comfy couch space on which to enjoy one of Fox's well-programmed wine flights (try the viognier) or just a great glass of bubbly prosecco. Tune out to the throbbing house music that blooms into mellow jazz as the night ages, and tune in to the awesome wood-grain, bamboo, and metal lines of the well-situated space. Linger long for two-ounce tastes for as little as $3.50 (why, that's as cheap as a PBR!) and any of dozens of great bottles for $25 and under – a bargain for the experience and ambience.
Gerd and Chi at Lime. photo by Mirissa Neff
While Myth's look is as elegant and refined as a supper club of yore, nothing screams nouveau like the acerbic and tangy Lime (2247 Market, S.F. 415-621-5256, www.lime-sf.com). Situated mid-Market, Lime spares you the attitude of downtown – and the need to throw down heaps of cash, often required within spitting distance of the Transamerica tower. Mission folk and Castro boys get giddy on the house's extensive menu of mojitos and martinis, served attractively and, more important, either clear, pale chartreuse, or milky white so as not to clash with the furniture. And luckily, plenty of economic options exist to soak it all up; go for the trendy $6 grilled cheese and tomato soup or the $8 fish tacos, or totally rock out on the $10 short ribs. And rock you will – the air is cluttered with a cacophony of shouted conversation at battle with gonging house and techno. Supercasual compared to other supper clubs, and superchic, this is where the Logan's Run crowd would go for an evening
Karen Solomon is the Bay Guardian's special sections editor and Back Burner columnist, as well as a freelance writer.