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A drinking tour of swanky hotel bars

Wednesday, Aug 28 2002
It's hard to beat a fancy hotel bar when you want to drink from the fountain of swank, and if you'd like a chaser of sleek, sensuous, dare we say deliciously surreal design, get your highfalutin heinie down to the Redwood Room at the Clift. The line no longer stretches down Geary as it did a year ago. Still, at 10 p.m. on a Saturday, the place is brimming with fashionable folk: pretty boys in crisp white shirts, pretty girls in clingy evening dresses. The room is bathed in a soft, cinematic glow that appears to emanate directly from the namesake redwood paneling.

Such lighting makes just about everyone look fine. Case in point: Peter, who seems attracted to every female who shoulders past him through the crowd. Attempts at chitchat get him nowhere. Perhaps his shirt, a Hawaiian thing emblazoned with Woodies (cars, not appendages), is hurting the cause. "It'll work," Peter promises. Perhaps.

At least a dozen women strike the classic on-the-make pose (shoulders thrown back, eyes like slits, manicured nails tapping cocktail glasses). Robin is definitely prowling. "Very savvy," she says. "That's our word for good-looking guys."

"Yeah, very savvy," adds her friend Susan. "Veeeerrrrrry savvy."

Enough savvy -- we're talking about swank. For a taste of over-the-top glitz, bop by the Starlight Room atop the Sir Frances Drake. Blooming roses, tuxedo-clad security men, and a mirrored ceiling above the bar give the place the feel of a luxury cruise ship. Older couples nuzzle at reserved tables, savoring the breathtaking view of the new Union Square. An R&B cover band plays for a crowd full of protruding elbows and shuffling feet. This is the white-person-dance-move capital of San Francisco.

But folks are enjoying themselves, and visiting from all over the Bay Area. Matt's from San Jose. "We heard the ads on the radio saying, 'Come to San Francisco,' so we're here. We're putting some money into your economy; we're helping to grease the wheels." Maurice hails from the Peninsula, Michael from Walnut Creek. J.B. lives nearby, but recently arrived from Boulder.

"What brings me to the Starlight Room is the love in the atmosphere," J.B. enthuses. He recently experienced his first Gay Pride Parade, and seemed to dig that as well. "The peace and the happiness, the joy was vibrating. This city is the best!"

One cannot write about swank hotel bars without mentioning Nob Hill's Top of the Mark (at the pinnacle of the Mark Hopkins). Unfortunately, one cannot interview guests under Tony the manager's watch, so let's just say that the Mark offers its own views and hosts another R&B cover band. Oh yes, and the Starlight Room is not the white-person-dance-move capital of the city.

With that, we're off to Laurel Heights' tony G, in the Laurel Inn. Once a blisteringly hot spot, G has cooled to the point where you can find a seat near the fireplace or step directly to the bar and order your very own Timsicle (a sultry blend of Stoli Vanilla, orange juice, and Chambord). If you want to stand out amid the young, stylish crowd, wear a sweater like Chi-Chi's -- white, with furry forearms and a furry collar. Granted, this may draw unwanted attention.

"A very fishy brother-and-sister duo just tried to pick up on me," she says. "They kind of cornered me and were like, 'Where you going, big girl?'"

Elsewhere at G, Kyle and Margaret are righteously plastered. Identical, ice-blue eyes stare from two different faces. In other words, they're brother and sister.

"I'll give you a fucking soundbite," says Kyle.

No you won't: We'd rather end with a bite of our own. Fishy indeed.

About The Author

Greg Hugunin

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