The Return of Glam: San Francisco emerges from her slumber and into saucy new bars + lounges.
Left Door, the glamorous and intimate new lounge and restaurant in the Marina. (Erin Ng)

The Return of Glam: San Francisco emerges from her slumber and into saucy new bars + lounges.


As the complex machinery of the San Francisco economy continues to hollow out downtown in new and frightening ways (say it isn’t so, Macy’s), there’s a growing backlash to the doom and gloom.

When the sun descends and the lights of the city flicker to life, so too does a vision of prosperity and celebration long forgotten. Swank is back—and just in time.

Over the last six months or so, SF has welcomed multiple new venues with glamorous vibes, luxe cocktails and food, and entertainment magnetic enough to pull the city out of its work-from-home haze. These are places special enough for a dress and heels and enticing enough to embody the phrase “a night on the town.”

A lounge area at the iconic, 360-degree rooftop bar and restaurant Starlite.(Courtesy of @andrewtourssf/@beacongrand)

“The people who are opening things right now have the confidence or audacity to do it,” says Scott Baird, cofounder of Trick Dog and creator of the cocktail menu at Union Square’s new Starlite(450 Powell St., Union Square). “The mood is, 'why not just go for it?'”

San Franciscans, it seems, are more than ready to lean into the sentiment, too. As they were pre-pandemic, rooftops are once again among the most electrifying spaces in town. Starlite is the brilliant resurrection of the former celebrity-studded Henry Denton’s Starlight Room. The iconic 360-degree bar and lounge sits atop the 21st floor of the historic Beacon Grand hotel (formerly the Sir Francis Drake) anchored by Michelin-starred chef Johnny Spero’s edible “love note” to SF, splashy early-20th century design by Ken Fulk alum Alice Crumeyrolle, and Baird’s mixologist wizardry.

“Right now maximalism is the thing, the design hallmark that’s washing through the planet,” says Baird. “It’s a movement toward sexy, jewel-toned design,” and the cocktails he’s created to complement it are playful “abstractions of classics.” Almost every night so far “has been ripping,” he continues, with a crowd that leans slightly older in the early evening, fashion-forward and cosmopolitan-cool at night, and clubby after 11pm—all of them sipping on drinks like the Pornstar martini (vodka, passionfruit, lime, vanilla, cacao, Champagne) and Colorado Bulldog (vodka, coffee liquor, Coca-Cola, vanilla cream, and cinnamon).

Union Square's new Peruvian-Japanese Nikkei rooftop Chotto Matte.(Courtesy of @chottomattesf)

The eye-catching Peruvian-Japanese Nikkei juggernaut Chotto Matte (50 O’Farrell St.) is also adding new vibrancy to Union Square after dark. It spreads out across the rooftop of the former eight-floor Macy’s Men’s department store with a lush design full of vibrant, avant-garde elements; DJs and live entertainment; and a theatrical sushi bar and flaming robata grill.

But downtown's historic shopping district isn’t the only neighborhood taking tentative steps into a nighttime renaissance. The Tenderloin's Line Hotel has brought a welcomed new bar in league with its resident rooftop hotspots, Rise Over Run (33 Turk St.), in addition to its elegant Dark Bar, a dimly lit Asian-inspired space where cocktails and bites are fashioned with preserved and fermented ingredients. Meanwhile in SoMa, The Dawn Club (10 Annie St.), a captivating reboot of a 1930s jazz club with all the swank and glamour of the original, swings to a rare whiskey collection and live music every evening after 8pm.

Over in the Marina, Left Door (1905 Union St.) walks a more intimate path into the exquisite. The moody space designed by Sean Carino feels like a dinner party at the upstairs home of SF’s most interesting, most impeccably styled residents. Crafted out of a 123-year old, three-bedroom apartment, each room has a different vignette made up of custom furniture and wallpapers, vintage treasures, and rich textures, finishes, and colors that channel Art Deco, Hollywood Regency, and mid-century modern design. The menu is luxurious, with half a dozen styles of martinis and twice as many types of bubbles, a caviar and raw bar, and “bougie” tatchos made with fresh Perigord truffle.

“Swanky bars transport you somewhere else,” says Joe Wallace, Left Door’s co-owner. “They lend well to deeper connection. A place where you can dress up, grab a martini and a bite, catch up with friends and loved ones, and escape for a bit.”

Undoubtedly, both connection and escape are at the heart of what revelers are seeking in SF in 2024 but there’s something else at work here, too. The return of glamour is the snap-back of a rubber band that’s been pulled too close to disaster, the boomerang of boom and bust. It’s the resilient flame of a city that still burns as bright as it did in the aftermath of 1906 and after the bubble burst on dot-coms in the early 2000s.

San Francisco is never more stunning—or more fun—than when she begins to reawaken from her slumber.

The gorgeous bar at Left Door.(Erin Ng)

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