The Weeknighter: The Big Four
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?
I was kicked out of the bar at Big Four Restaurant twice last year. The first time was because of my big mouth. My friend Brenna and I were a bit intoxicated from the various drinks we’d consumed earlier that night and I was talking far too loud (as usual) and dropping many an F-Bomb (as usual). The very gentlemanly and impeccably dressed barkeep reminded me that we were in a respectable establishment and asked me not to curse, to which I drunkenly replied, “Shit, I’m really fucking sorry man.” Despite it being an accident, we were kindly asked to leave the premises.
I was telling this story to a group of my friends as we walked through the restaurant’s doors a few months later. It’s hard not to be impressed by The Big Four upon entering. The walls are made of rich dark wood that compliments the forest green barstools, chairs, and banquettes throughout the restaurant. Fresh-cut flowers sit in vases on white tablecloths, and vintage photos and ephemera of San Francisco’s high society past line the walls.
While the Big Four is named after the four Railroad Barons (Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, C.P. Huntington, and Mark Hopkins) who had their mansions on Nob Hill before the 1906 earthquake, the restaurant and bar actually feels like something straight out of Mad Men. It’s easy to imagine Don Draper having a three-martini lunch with some other equally handsome and well-heeled man at one of the back booths. While Don Draper obviously can’t hang there due to his nonexistence, I did once lunch next to Jane Goodall at the Big Four. I told her I liked monkeys too.
Walking in that day with my with my group of 10 or so friends, we were very obviously not the kind of clientele The Big Four was accustomed to. We were into hour five or six of what ended up being a nearly 14-hour bachelor party and we’d just come off of drinking heavily on a boat. We were loud, drunk, sporting a few sailor hats, and reeked of general mayhem with undertones of douchebaggery. It was a bachelor party, after all. We were asked to leave before we were even offered a table. The only one who seemed to want us there was the piano player, because he knew people in our condition were almost always good tippers. Truthfully, if I was working there I would’ve kicked us out too.
Despite my inability to spend more than a few minutes at the Big Four without being kicked out, it really is a great spot if you wanna feel old school and classy. There’s something special about sipping a martini while the piano man tinkles away, and you imagine what it would’ve been like to live through all those different San Franciscos that seem converge in that bar. Considering the crowd often leans towards an older generation, you might just be able to strike up a conversation with someone who has. Just make sure not to drop any F-Bombs or wear any sailor hats.
Stuart Schuffman has been called "an Underground legend" by the SF Chronicle, "an SF cult hero" by the SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap" by Time Out New York. He is also the host for the IFC travel show Young, Broke & Beautiful. Follow him @BrokeAssStuart.