Guests at the Ruby Skye nightclub on the last night of this year will dine on herb-crusted filet mignon with mustard sauce, curried crab with sliced almonds on brioche, and rum-raisin truffles as they shimmy to world-renowned Chicago house DJs under the glimmer of one million pieces of confetti released into their champagne glasses at midnight. On the same evening, patrons at the self-proclaimed "party bar" Butter will munch on tater tots, SpaghettiOs, and fried Twinkies while clinking free glasses of Miller High Life over the strain of random local jocks spinning rock.
New Year's Eve clubbing and dining options in San Francisco range from the extremely extravagant to the very basic, with price points ranging from free to close to four figures. These choices can be extreme, but many of this year's offerings in the nightclub and restaurant worlds have average price tags close to $75, which promoters say is reflective of the current lingering recession.
Robbie Kowal, director of Sunset Promotions, is co-promoter of the 10th annual Sea of Dreams at the Concourse Exhibition Center, an eight-and-a-half-hour party featuring DJs and headlining performances from the fiery Grammy-winning Latin/hip-hop fusion band Ozomatli and buzzing Austin electro-funk duo Ghostland Observatory, all for $75. He reveals that Sunset Promotions has spent way more on talent this year than in 2008 in order to attract enough attendees to equal or come close to last year's take.
"In some ways, we've done it gladly, understanding that the important thing on New Year's isn't necessarily having the best show for the money but having the best show, period," he says, "because if people are going to go out and spend a bunch of money hard on one night, it's gonna be New Year's Eve. The important thing is to have a jaw-dropping event."
"We want a diverse crowd from all walks of life, so we try to keep the price accessible," echoes David "DeeCee" Corran of DeeCee's Soul Shakedown, hosting his fifth annual New Year's Eve party at Club Six. This year, it year features Afrika Bambaataa, one of hip-hop's original DJs and architect of the electro sound, and local heavyweight rap stars Zion-I. Advance tickets for DeeCee's Soul Shakedown begin at $25 and cap out at $50 at the door. "This is our biggest year for headliners, so we're also trying to give as much value as we can because times are tough for sure."
If a party at a club isn't your choice for New Year's Eve, there are plenty of places to dine out, and again, prices vary. According to OpenTable.com, 51 San Francisco restaurants are already accepting reservations for New Year's Eve dinner. The average cost for a three-course prix-fixe meal, not including wine or champagne, is $75. This ceiling is shattered at the likes of Acquerello in Russian Hill, which is promising "a stellar menu of six dramatic courses, including lobster and black truffles" for $250 (including wine), and the Westin St. Francis restaurant Michael Mina, offering five courses and wine pairings for $350. Depending on the heft of your wallet, these would appear to be either reasonable offerings or extremely pricey.
"More often than not, you're going to get a lower-quality meal on New Year's, especially at some of the places that aren't used to doing that volume," cautions Paolo Lucchesi, editor of the restaurant and nightlife blogs EaterSF and Eater National. He suggests that, for places that do it right, $75 isn't too much for a New Year's night out on the town, taking into account that it's also an evening of entertainment, including any extras provided by the restaurant and the potentially priceless people-watching at some of the trendier high-end places. "I think the best way of attacking New Year's Eve, if you have to dine out, is to hit up the restaurants you like to begin with," he advises. "Most restaurants offer special menus that are probably marked up a little, but the best are the ones that offer the normal menu as well, because you get to play it how you want."
If you stumble out of dinner and decide that a visit to a club is indeed in the cards, the SOMA club zone of 11th and Folsom streets will be ground zero for affordable and vivacious activity. Paradise Lounge's Club 1994 is charging just $18.50 to dance to '90s tunes under a balloon drop, while DNA Lounge's Bootie has a $40 early-bird special for close to eight hours of colorful partying to creative mash-up tunes. Bootie is also offering a taste of luxury: You can pay $495 for a VIP package, including what's known in the industry as "bottle service," a private table with your choice of one premium liquor and mixers, plus an attentive server. Bottle service can easily drive up a group's nightclub experience into those dreaded four figures.
Whether it's champagne wishes and caviar dreams, or simply a resolution to start things off with beer and tater tots, the choice is yours on New Year's Eve in San Francisco.