It’s that time of year again for the 15,000 or so of us lucky enough to immerse ourselves in all things security for one glorious week . . . err, or maybe to take a break from the RSA Conference’s regular fare of heady security classes, complex architecture pitches, and way-too-salty-but-it’s-4 p.m.-and-you’re-starving booth snacks, and, instead, take in the singular San Francisco pub scene.
Whether you hail from where the pub was invented or where the BBQ is unrivaled, there’s still a new experience awaiting you in Silicon Valley’s merriment epicenter. The key to navigating the scene is deciding what your mood requires.
Here’s a handy guide to get you started and, if you’re inclined, a chance to share your experience with us. So what’s your pleasure?
- “I want to rub elbows with industry heavies.” The W Hotel, St. Regis lobby bar, and the Press Club are all located mere steps from the Moscone Center. Anytime after 4 p.m., these elegant spaces will be chock full of suited folk sipping well-crafted cocktails. Be sure to have a back up plan in case elbow-to-elbow standing room isn’t your thing.
- “I want to see my colleagues let loose.” If you’ve got a big group and an appetite for pub food, you don’t have to venture far beyond the Thirsty Bear and ROE. That’s where your friendly booth staff is likely to end up, too, if they aren’t on evening duty. If you wait out the happy hour groups, you can likely get dinner seating, too.
- “I want to take in Bay views and relax.” A quick taxi ride from Moscone is the Embarcadero, where choices for Bay Bridge viewing as well as people watching abound. On the high end, there is the exquisite Waterbar with an outdoor patio and circular indoor bar that literally floats on the water. If you can’t get a seat, venture across the street to the Palomino. It shares largely the same view and is likely to feature happy hour specials that won’t break the bank. If it’s a nice evening, just walk north for a bit and you’ll find a place that suits your mood.
- “I want to pretend to be a hipster local.” So where do all those guys and gals go after finishing a coding binge or the storyboarding for the next hand-wrought, locally-sourced, soon to be vastly pinned, tweeted, and Instagrammed craze? That “where” is likely to be South of Market (SOMA), where many a fledgling company and quite a few biggies are headquartered. Two of my favorite spots for happy hour or post dinner are Bergerac and Bloodhound. The latter has a mind-blowing beer selection, including ones that rival spirits in strength. Don’t worry about sampling those because they are served much like shots in tiny glasses; and, if you over indulge; there’s an array of interesting food trucks parked outside to sober you up with savor.
- “I want to sip on small-batch bourbon and people watch.” There’s a great many places for this, but if you need to stay close to the conference action, then there’s none better than Bourbon and Branch. The whole password-to-get-in business might seem a little gimmicky, but the space is warm and the spirits selection extensive; so don't write it off as a tourist trap. If you’re up for a quick taxi ride, then Nihon Whisky Lounge is worth the time unless sushi whisky bars abound in your neck of the woods. The pairing might sound unorthodox, but this is no experiment. The place has been around for a few years and the offerings of the kitchen and bar are excellent.
- “A great beer is good, but interesting bites are better.” So if it’s gastropubs and izakayas (the Japanese version) you seek, San Francisco has plenty to offer in this category. While there aren’t many in SOMA or the Financial District, if you can venture out to the Mission district, you’ll have your heart’s delight worth.
- “SF institutions for me, please; I want an experience.” Well, for you my friend, there is Martuni’s piano bar and Asia SF. Both will treat you to stiff drinks and a show, with the former featuring ivory ticklers that urge you to sing along and the latter . . . well, you just have to go and find out.
- “Steal away from it all for a little bit.” This will be hard to do during one of the city’s busiest conference weeks, but try your luck at Le Colonial. This quaint converted Victorian mansion is tucked well away from sight in an alley. If you don’t care for a sit-down Vietnamese dinner, then head straight up the staircase to a Casablanca style bar, grab one of the comfy seats, and hope no one else has read this post.
Additional San Francisco Bars for RSA Travelers: