The Weeknighter: The Royal Exchange
Weekends are for amateurs. Weeknights are for pros. That's why each week Stuart Schuffman will be exploring a different San Francisco bar, giving you the lowdown on how and where to do your weeknight right. From the most creative cocktails to the best happy hours, Stuart's taking you along on his weeknight adventures into the heart of the City's nightlife. So, who wants a drink?
At some point in the history of San Francisco someone decided that it was perfectly acceptable to wear North Face fleeces. All the time. Everywhere. Even with a nice dress or slacks and a tie. Yes, fucking North Face fleeces. I understand wearing one if you’re hiking Half Dome or camping in Joshua Tree, but if the most outdoorsy thing you’re doing is walking from your office to the Royal Exchange, you need to get it together. This is San Francisco, a major metropolitan city whose influence effects the world. And while yes, I know it’s always cold here, just please try a little harder. This, people, is the reason San Francisco is so often sartorially maligned.
There are a lot of North Face fleeces in The Royal Exchange. This has no reflection on the place, it’s just a nod to the bar’s location. It’s less of a fixture in the Financial District, as it is an institution. For the past 40-plus years, The Royal Exchange has been the place where people meet their future wives and husbands, celebrate the winnings of favorite sports teams, and drown their sorrows during economic upheaval. In fact, many of the longtime patrons have done all of the above. This family-owned restaurant and bar first opened in 1972, the same year that the Transamerica Pyramid was completed and the year Willie Mays played his final season. Set up like an English-style pub with rich brown wood that covers the entire establishment, and high backed booths that act almost as snugs, The Royal Exchange is the kind of place where having a long term relationship with the bartender is a common thing. The legendary Doc worked here for 31 years.
While The Royal Exchange has a full liquor license, at it’s heart, it’s a beer bar. It was one of the first spots in SF to get into micro brews, and all 32 different beers they serve only flow from taps. No bottle or cans here. It’s also literally a weeknighter bar since they are closed on the weekends. Because of this, they do all kinds of promotions during the week like Taco Tuesday, and having two different happy hours on Friday. That said, they make most of their nut while the sun is up; The Royal Exchange does 400 lunches a day!
The first time I went to The Royal Exchange was for a happy hour fundraiser event for Project Open Hand. People sat at the very large bar nibbling on pub grub while staring at one of the many games being played on TVs around the room. The good looking, well-manicured, North Face-wearing, after work crowd was talking and laughing about water cooler shit at various tables, and my friends Hannah and Kevin were at the door collecting money for whichever campaign Project Open Hand was running at the time. It was a different San Francisco than I was used to. I spend a lot of time in Mission District dive bars and North Beach artist haunts, where hipsters and old men talk drunkenly of writing, music, painting, and all the other things that will never make them any money. The conversations I overheard at The Royal Exchange were about money, business, sports and all the other things that will never make them any art. Not that I didn’t feel at home, I sat at the bar and talked shit with an old timer for awhile before eventually heading to Spec’s.
I’ve been back to The Royal Exchange a number of times since, and each time I’m so utterly pleased by how nice and friendly everyone who works there is. I’ve even begun to think of it as my bar in the FiDi. But each time I’m there, I look around the room I can’t stop thinking: Jesus people, enough with the North Face already. If you’re such a big shot finance dude, you should at least be able to afford to learn how to dress yourself.
Author’s Note: The Royal Exchange's huge St. Paddy’s Day Party is being held on Friday this year.