The Weeknighter: Orbit Room
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 first went to The Orbit Room when I was 21 years old. I had recently moved to The City and was subletting in the Haight. My friend Nick who had also moved here for an internship that summer was living in the Castro, so The Orbit Room was a perfect in between place to meet for a drink. I remember walking into the bar, seeing the globes, the maps on the wall, the Art Deco fixtures, and being reminded of things like Indiana Jones and Tin Tin. Good things. Things of adventure and wide open possibility. I was 21 and had just moved to one of the finest cities in the world. There was no better place to be.
As I sat down in one of those high-backed chairs around the circular bar, Nick bought me a Mojito. I’d never even heard of one before and for months afterwards thought it was some kind of sophisticated city boy drink that hadn’t yet made it to us provincials down in Santa Cruz. Up until then I was drinking mostly Budweiser and the only cocktail I knew of was a Whiskey Sour because my dad’s friend Herbie (said with a raspy voice and pronounced Hoibie, the only way an 80 year old Brooklynite with emphysema can say it) had turned me onto it in Vegas when I was much younger. What I didn’t realize then was that while the Mojito wasn’t an SF specific drink, The Orbit Room was way ahead of the curve; they were making fancy cocktails with all fresh ingredients way back in 2002. Just like they are today.
I stopped into The Orbit Room one night recently when I was on an absolute tear. I don’t recall where I had been prior, but I was heading to a bachelor party the next day and was throwing down like I was already at one. I sauntered (ok, maybe staggered) through the door and ordered a Mojito; they still make some of the best in the city. While I waited to hear back from a friend who was supposedly nearby, I ended up chatting with the cats sitting next to me at the bar. Ended up one was the owner of 111 Minna and the other owned the very establishment we were drinking in. They both insisted that I have something to eat (it was apparently obvious that I needed some sustenance) and I ordered some delicious panini whose ingredients I am doomed to never remember. I think I also had a slice of the all organic pizza they’d ordered as well. Sobering up a bit, I realized it had been a couple years since I’d visited the Orbit Room and they made some well needed upgrades. The lighting was better, there was even more cool shit on the walls, and they were absolutely killing it in the food department. And, of course, the cocktails were as superb as ever.
As I left The Orbit Room with half a panini stuffed into my pocket (leftovers, baby), I was reminded of how great a joint it is. Partly for the food, partly for the atmosphere, partly for expert bartenders, I decided I needed to visit more often. But mostly it was for Herbie. If they can make such amazing Mojitos, just imagine what they can do with a Whiskey Sour.
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.