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?
It seems that with Chambers, someone finally did something right with the bar/restaurant space attached to the Phoenix Hotel. The previous bar, The Bambuddha Lounge, was mediocre and douchy at best, and the spot before that, The Backflip, was well, mediocre and douchy at best. Instead of shooting for bridge and tunnel weekend tourists looking to blow their load on a nightclub-next-to-a-pool experience, like the previous two incarnations, Chambers is actually appealing to San Franciscans.
The first time I found myself at Chambers was by accident. I had bullshitted my way into some party at the Phoenix where every hotel room was being used as an art gallery. Needing to take a piss from all the free wine and beer I’d been drinking, I wandered into Chambers thinking it was still The Bambuddha Lounge. I was pleasantly surprised to find a warmly lit bar that felt like it had one foot in the past and one in the present. Shelves upon shelves of vinyl records line most walls of the establishment, while a big tapestry of a human face uses a fireplace as its mouth. The whole place is sleek and sexy, without being too over the top.
I arrived at Chambers last night just as Sarah and Ashley were finishing their meal. They couldn’t finish what they’d ordered so I happily did so for them. The food was great and seasonal, and I tried Romanesco broccoli for the first time. While it looked like some kind of Martian sex organ, it tasted fantastic. So did the tombo tuna and the boar chop. After the meal we moved to the front bar, where creative cocktails are given uncreative names like “whiskey drink.” I noticed that Isabel Manchester (who owns Chambers with her husband Sean) was on the floor running drinks to tables. I liked that. It’s always nice when the owner of an upscale joint is working the trenches with her employees. In fact, it’s endearing.
I asked the bartender if they actually played any of the thousands of records that surround the interior of Chambers, and he said that on slower nights he throws some on. I was relieved that all that good music wasn’t going to waste. And I’m also glad that they’ve taken music as the restaurant/bar’s theme. The Phoenix Hotel has long been the place where touring bands stay and almost anyone who has been in SF for awhile, and has any ties to music, has had some long, strange nights there. I fondly remember partying with The Thrills at the Phoenix back when they were together and still one of Ireland’s biggest bands. Luckily, none of us ended up in the pool that night, as I don’t think we would’ve been able to find our way out of it.
My favorite thing about Chambers, though, is the big illuminated sign in the backroom bar that says “Be Amazing.” It kinda reminds me of the story of how John Lennon met Yoko Ono. She had an art installation that included a ladder leading to a magnifying glass on the ceiling. When John looked through the magnifying glass, the only thing there was the word “Yes,” While the “Be Amazing” sign is on a much larger and noticeable scale than Yoko’s “Yes,” the sentiment is the same: Put positivity out into the world anyway you can. And it seems that Chambers is certainly doing something positive in the eating and drinking world of San Francisco. Be amazing…and let’s go jump in the pool!
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. Follow him @BrokeAssStuart.