In the über-posh world of new San Francisco, vip bon vivants look to see and be seen slipping into members-only clubs and secret party rooms off limits to the madding crowd. Have you received your invitation yet?
Tosca, the legendary North Beach hot spot, was packed on a Thursday night in October. Many hopefuls were vying to get inside the recently revamped venue when Girls star Lena Dunham, along with her entourage, showed up for dinner unannounced. Instead of being turned away, the group was whisked past diners, and even past the famed back room of Tosca. Instead, they ate in the private, eight-person “chef’s lounge” upstairs, which overlooks the kitchen. That’s right, Tosca has a super-exclusive party room. To hold court at this table, you’ve simply got to be cool enough.
“There are those who think we bought Tosca just so I could actually get into the back room,” says new owner Ken Friedman, who admits the rumors “might be true….It was already the coolest place in San Francisco. Part of the reason it was the coolest place in SF is because of the private room. All we needed to do was not fuck it up.”
Since the luxury busses of tech titans first rolled into town, swank, exclusionary spaces have become the new fashion in SF. The recent VIP room boom includes the much-buzzed-about members-only Battery, where select boldface names can rub elbows over fine dining and in the state-of-the-art gym; Marianne’s, the invitation-only back room with a rock ’n’ roll vibe at The Cavalier; and The Gotham Club at AT&T Park, where Giants fans can play billiards and bowl in ambient seclusion before a ball game. The draw of behind-closed-doors access is just what you’d expect: The cool kids want to mingle with a hand-picked set of equally special souls. As The Battery’s founder Michael Birch notes, “All great parties, whether in a venue or a private [space], work because the guest list is curated. Methods of curation differ, but thought goes into who will be there.”
Friedman, a California native who also co-owns The Spotted Pig in New York, scoffs a bit at the sudden saturation of newly minted restricted areas popping up around the city (“Some people get it right, and some people get it wrong”). Touché: Tosca’s inimitable hip factor is thanks to the pioneering efforts of longtime former owner Jeannette Etheredge, who spent decades personally cultivating a coterie of not just any movie stars, artists, politicians, and local characters—if you made it into Tosca’s funky back room, it was because
Jeannette herself deemed you worthy. Tosca has long been the only space here to rival anything found in New York or London—and for most of us, its VVIP dining room is just as far away.
It might be a stretch to think that Tosca’s crossed-arm refusal of entry has led to a quest among our newly anointed arbiters of culture—techies, society offspring, and the next gen of creatives, filling shoes once worn by the previous generation’s Penns and Coppolas—to find their own top-secret digs. But while Lena Dunham and her ilk reign supreme in North Beach, the rest of us are in need of a place where we can hide/show off in semisecret…and amenities are key.
For those who find The Battery’s Ken Fulk–designed common area too, um, common, the club’s penthouse suite is the private room inside the private club, and it is a prime spot for fancy parties. (Drink one too many? Have a lounge on the Hermès bedding!) Over at The Gotham Club, meanwhile, the $2,500 initation fee (plus annual dues) offers guests a shared connection: a love of our World Series champion home team. But for some, explains club manager Ryann Greenberg, “It’s also a status symbol. AT&T Park is a very public place, and anyone can buy a ticket. Not everyone can join The Gotham Club.” For tony Giants fans, it’s their field of dreams, with a mixed group of fans and a private entrance. “Members don’t have to wait in line to see the game or get their bobblehead,” says Greenberg. “They can even watch Giants batting practice.”
At the end of the day, it’s all about an irresistible bit of swagger: that feeling that you—you!—can go where others can’t. You. Are. Special. And what is the de rigueur way to prove such preeminence? Throw a party and invite your most fabulous (and carefully selected) friends. Membership has its privileges.
WHERE TO PARTY LIKE A BALLER
1. The Battery
Vibe: Bohemian Club meets Night at the Roxbury
Guest list: Tech billionaires, socialites, and creative types on “scholarship”
Perks: A truly magical penthouse party space with panoramic city views
Open sesame: Know the right people; get invited. Membership starts at $2,400 per year, plus a $500 initiation fee.
Price you pay: Non-members may rent the Penthouse for $10,000 a night.
Where: Jackson Square
Vibe: The Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet
Guest list: Local cool kids, celebrity chefs, and the occasional pro jock
Perks: Sexy ambiance, private bar, and a back door to the alley beloved by smokers
Open sesame: Exude swagger, and ask owner Anna Weinberg nicely.
Price you pay: For private events, room rental ranges from $2,500 to $4,500
(food and drinks included).
Where: The Cavalier (SoMa)
Vibe: Security is double-tight at the city’s newest clandestine club.
Guest list: Downtown types, especially connoisseurs of small-batch booze
Perks: Its own bouncer, premium bar, and kitchen for personalized menu options
Price you pay: Rent the room for a mere $250–$500, but be prepared: The bar minimum ranges from $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the day.
Where: Rickhouse (FiDi)
4. Tosca Cafe
Vibe: Greenwich Village, circa 1956
Guest list: Celebrities—they’re just like us!
Perks: The food is legitimately delicious.
Price you pay: Plunking down $1,800 for the food and beverage minimum will score you the back room. The Chef’s Lounge runs $1,000 for rental (not including food and drinks).
Where: North Beach
Vibe: The 10th and 11th floors comprise a private club within a private club.
Guest list: Young yet old-school dapper dandies who notice finer details.
Perks: Stellar views, plus theatrics at bar—think Champagne sabering and port “tonging” (yes, that’s a thing).
Open sesame: Initiation fees for members can cost up to $2,500, plus monthly dues.
Price you pay: Non-members may reserve small rooms starting at $3,000; a full-floor for $15,000; and the whole club for $65,000. Pony up!
Vibe: Hush-hush underground hideaway beneath SF’s hottest hat shop
Guest list: Your choice!
Perks: This miniature bar is standing room only, and an escape from busy North Beach.
Price you pay: Drop $1,000 on hats (or just fork over the cash) to host your own private party in Goorin Bros.’ Stockton Street store and speakeasy.
Where: North Beach
Vibe: Orange October all year long
Guest list: Diehard baseball fans, tech bros, and your retired PE teacher
Perks: Private access to billiards, bowling lanes, and vintage video games (Ms. Pac-Man, anyone?)
Open sesame: Be a season ticket holder or proven Giants super-fan. $2,500 for member initiation, plus $1,250 in annual dues.
Price you pay: Non-members may rent the the Game Room ($10,000) and Club House behind right field ($15,000).
Where: AT&T Park (SoMa)
Vibe: Cool, without trying too hard
Guest list: Artists, literary types, barflies, local chefs, and stray startup millionaires
Perks: In the heart of the Mission, but removed from the beaten path
Open sesame: Arrive by 8pm to nab the upstairs (at no charge) for you and 35 friends.
Price you pay: The two-story space rents for $2,500 Sunday through Thursday, and $4,000 Friday and Saturday.
9. The Office
Vibe: Macho and industrial circa the 1940s—think well-worn leather armchairs and Edison bulbs.
Guest list: Up to 120 of your closest chums
Perks: With hand-crafted cocktails, shuffleboard, three TVs, and a killer sound system, there are plenty of ways to pass the time.
Price you pay: Rental starts at $2,000.
Where: Churchill (Duboce Triangle)
This article was published in 7x7's December/January 2014 issue. Click here to subscribe.