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Club Cruise

Just what makes a supper club earn its title? The criteria are nebulous at best, but the clubs we visited all sought to be more than just a nightclub or a restaurant Some fail miserably; others can and do succeed at this ambitious mission.

2389 Mission St., 550-7455

The Scene: You can almost smell the history here. First opened in the late 1930s, this formidable night spot was a dive (for better or for worse) reborn after it was purchased by owners of the Flying Saucer and Cafe du Nord. With its round burgundy leatherette booths, dark wood paneling and flattering lighting, despite its smoke, Bruno's remains a breath of fresh air in the world of supper clubs.

The Style: The Outer Mission alterna-crowd meets '40s swing style. Feel like pulling out that beaded thrift store number? Go for it, girls. Guys, what you wear doesn't matter so much, though a little pomade makes a nice finishing touch.

The Eats & Drinks: The small but elegant menu puts an upscale spin on comfort food, with consistently good, and typically hearty, servings of fish, pasta, pork chops and steaks. The petite tuna with black peppercorns makes a delicious----and not so petite----appetizer, while anything with mashed potatoes (mmmmm ... mash po-tay-tooooos ...) gets our vote in the entree category. After dinner, head out to the bar for a Ketel One martini and mix and mingle with the crowd.

The Sounds: Live music seven nights a week, featuring some excellent ensembles. Check out Monday night, when the jazz is especially good and the crowds are notably at home.

The Icing: Dessert as it's supposed to be, plus great big wine glasses that give even the house cab a feeling of luxury.

The Tip: You're a long way from Pac Heights, pal, so don't forget to put that Club on your wheel.

Coconut Grove
1415 Van Ness Ave.

The Scene: Strictly B&T; this is the T.J. Maxx of supper clubs (with cigars). Overall, the aura says S.F. Focus meets Mafia Lite. While it attempts to look more like an old-time conception of supper clubs than most, the result is more "Supper Clubland" at Disney.

The Style: The women: stuffed into shall we say "unflattering" '80s attire. The men: lined up against the wall looking for love. Their collective expression says "VACANCY here."

The Eats & Drinks: Since its reopening in June 1996, this formerly high-priced establishment could easily be described as Everyman's Supper Club. The reasonably priced menu offers typical supper club fare with a pan-Pacific twist, with dishes like "Red Jerked Pork Chop on Crispy Potato Pancake, with Fuji-Apple Compote, then drizzled with a Natural Jus." The bar is crowded, but don't ask for anything too complicated.

The Sounds: Acts vary, from jazz vocals to big band to Latin funk. Overheard: When asked if they have a special house drink, the bartender replied: "What, like a piña colada?" Uh, not really.

The Icing: Palm trees in the dining room----and you thought the ones on the Embarcadero were in poor taste.

The Tip: Go late, hang at the bar and catch the music. Skip dinner, avoid all that is pan-seared and au-jussed, grab some Chinese on Polk Street and have a drink and a smile as you take in the scenes from the Supper Club of Last Resort.

Cypress Club
Waiter, There's a Band in my Soup: The Cypress Club offers an intimate setting for musical enjoyment.

Cypress Club
500 Jackson St.

The Scene: With its over-the-top Toon Town decor, the sign over the door might as well read "Subtlety not welcome here." The crowd: upscale, mixed and middle-aged. The big velvet couches and expressive murals create something of a D.­Parker­Round Table­meets­Brazil situation, but with better-looking people. (Not recommended for the timid.)

The Style: The guys: so much Prada, we wonder if someone is giving the stuff away. The girls: tastefully plunging necklines, smatterings of glitter and lots of manicured red fingernails.

The Eats & Drinks: Presentation rules over quantity, with offerings like River Sturgeon served with Chervil and Hazelnut Risotto and Red Endive and Shallot Salad. And for the weight watchers out there, a portion of menu offers "Food for the Body Aware," featuring your range of grilled meats and fish. If you're that aware, why go to one of the most expensive restaurants in town?

The Sounds: Soothing piano sounds, the tinkle of clinking glasses, the murmur of the well-groomed. Overheard: "And then after my divorce, I took a break from my practice."

The Icing: The light fixtures. Those of you who've seen, know all about the renowned hanging nipples. Very Salvador Dali.

The Tip: Skip dinner, save your retirement fund and head to the bar for a first-rate Cosmopolitan, prepared with athletic prowess by the bartender.

("the Supper Club formerly known as Undici")
374 11th St.

The Scene: The Zuni of supper clubs. Pretty, glossy, skinny SOMA crowd. One looks around and wonders what these young, educated-looking hipsters do during daylight, so nocturnal is their appearance.

The Style: Expensively well-dressed; nothing too experimental, although there is lots of tastefully exposed female flesh. Whoever thought the halter top would make a comeback? There are exceptions to the rule, however: baby-pink patent leather pants have been spotted.

The Eats & Drinks: Good Cal-Ital food is coupled with variable service: sometimes friendly and attentive, occasionally snotty. Drinks are overpriced, as you
might expect.

The Sounds: Surprisingly consistent funk-jazz fusion; no one will be driven from their dinner by the quality of the sounds, though the volume is at times painful.

The Icing: Eleven is a good place to pretend you're a model, an agent, a fashion photographer, without actually having to assume such a tiresome existence. The solid menu teamed with solid sounds makes the striver atmosphere tolerable, and even occasionally entertaining. Don't go if you're feeling self-conscious.

The Tip: An excellent first-date spot. You're both reasonably well-dressed, and you're assured a good meal and decent music with a vague feeling of self-satisfaction. If you have absolutely nothing to say to each other, the music is loud, and there's lots of distracting eye candy.

Essex Club
Pasha Digs: The Orient meets fin-de-siecle style in the Essex Club's Scarlett Room.

847 Montgomery St.

The Scene: Picture this: Ernie's, the once­famed S.F. eatery, made immortal in Vertigo, with a wine cellar to make the French drool, has become Essex, a swinging singles multiplex a la North Beach. The dining room seems inconsequential to what this supper club is really all about, which one waiter described as "hipped up and toned down" from the staid Ernie's days. We'll say.

The Style: Black, black, black. Leave your jeans home, men, and opt for some dark trousers. Ladies, pull out that sleeveless number.

The Eats & Drinks: Go for the "Crab Cake in Roasted Red Pepper Jus." Yum. As for the bar, skip the cocktails and order some champagne, or maybe a Montrachet, from the extensive wine list. But beware of the bartender with the frat pin still attached, overheard saying to a pack of boys at the bar, "Drink up, ladies!"

The Sounds: Head upstairs to the Scarlett Room for some swinging R&B or jazz and a little dancing cheek-to-cheek, or if bump-and-grind is more your style, hit the dance floor adjoining the first-floor bar, complete with disco ball. Overheard from a soused suit: "The wheels don't turn without sales."

The Icing: The Bacchus Cellar, the wine-cellar-cum-cigar-bar where you can smoke, play pool or catch a late-night game of chess. It's all very civilized.

The Tip: Avoid the $15 cover charge to get into the bar and head with confidence to the velvet ropes by the dining room door. Once seated, this club's many nooks and crannies are but a one-way trip to the restroom away.

Photo by Elona Koff

Someone's on the Phone at Julie's: Hostess Kendall Dotty fields a call.

Julie Ring's Heart & Soul
1695 Polk St.

The Scene: Started by longtime S.F. supper club owner Julie Ring ("I'm the queen of supper clubs, honey"), her latest venture is her most inviting yet. With its small, intimate style, there's an understated clubbiness at work that bodes well for those who prefer to dine with a modicum of peace. Arrive early, stake out a table a polite distance from the band and hang with your date. You'll be surprised how interesting you're capable of being.

The Style: While the well-dressed hipsters had their day, the slumping 10-year-old girl, looking unhappy to be just about anywhere with her family, was somehow not out of place; nor were a couple of flannel-wearing creatures or the frumpy blond stirring her drink at the bar. We, naturally, felt quite at home in all black.

The Eats & Drinks: Yummy, but not cheap. Good fish, pasta, soup, and even slackers like us could understand most of the words on the menu. One disappointment: The warm, braided bread seemed at first a revelation until it hardened like a week-old bagel, making it clear that a microwave was at work. And you'll want to drink something in a stylish glass.

The Sounds: Bands six nights, with an emphasis on the old-style supper club feel. Cultures co-mingle when Atomic Cocktail plays its swinging Sinatra and Cole Porter standards, featuring a lead singer best described as "the man who fell to earth and went to the gym."

The Icing: You gotta like a waiter who, after watching you anguish over the pricey wine list, commends your choice of the $20 bottle of Gabbiano and then points out that it could be had at the market around the corner for $8. Swing lessons and the occasional "old diva night" tributes ain't bad either.

The Tip: Although at first glance it doesn't seem the best spot to spend an evening, Heart & Soul offers a sweet and slow journey into the night. Go early and have a drink before dinner while the sounds of the piano set the comfortable mood.

Julie's Supper Club
1123 Folsom St.

The Scene: Feeling, baby! This place has got feeling! It's hard to say exactly why. It's part lore (it was one of the first spots in the S.F. supper club renaissance) and part decor (the big, beautiful bar; the wood cabinets that hold cigarettes; the pictures on the wall featuring everyone from Herb Caen to the Crickets all give Julie's a cozy class). The weekday crowd is a little older and a little wiser than the Friday and Saturday set. Indeed, on the weekends, it's the SOMA shuffle as the B&T crowd and that mess from the Marina come spilling out of taxicabs ready to "Party!"

The Style: Answers will vary. Don't be surprised to see leopard skin and leather mixed in with the thrift store '40s look. On the weekends, of course, you're liable to be poked by a baseball cap.

The Eats & Drinks: One of the few places you can get food a little later (10:30pm). Omnipresent fried calamari more than holds its own, as do most the aps and entrees we sampled. And while it's hard to call margaritas in supper clubs progress, Julie's are to die for.

The Sounds: Julie's works best when it's doing a swing thing, especially "country swing," which those who know say is a quickly emerging situation. Also in the mix is funk and soul, R&B and some jazz. Also heard, quite unforgivably, was the bartender using the word "partner" (as in "hey, partner," "what can I get you, partner?" and "thanks, partner," three more times than necessary during the course of trying to order one drink).

The Icing: In past lives, the space was both a Hell's Angels hangout and a kidnapped Patty Hearst hideout.

The Tip: Unless you're traveling with a pack, snack on aps and maybe split an entree at the bar where the people­watching and band­listening are better. And remember: If you do go on the weekends, don't forget your wet suit, as the animals have been known to dance on the bar.

2029 Market St.

The Scene: The new hottie in town doesn't disappoint. There's a lot that goes right here: The silk and velvet curtains (brown rather than the usual red----someone was thinking ahead), the high ceilings, and a classic round bar that says "see and be seen" without making you want to crawl back to the Toronado. And thankfully, the Marina has not yet crashed the party.

The Style: Sophisticated sloppy. ("What, this ol' thing? Just something I threw on.") The ladies: Untucked silk blouses, crisp black pants, possibly the roommate's leopard-skin jacket. The guys: Short hair, starched Oxfords, trimmed goatees, and ready for a drink.

The Eats & Drinks: It just doesn't get any better than this. Everything we sampled----from the best mussels that have ever slip-slided their way down our throats to the perfectly done duck to the apple cider ice cream----was divine. And no, darling, the chew ain't cheap, but given the chichi surroundings it could be a lot worse.

The Sounds: Very "dinner jazz," an unintrusive, completely pleasant jazz and R&B situation, and one of the few places you're liable to hear someone "scat" as you chomp on your fried calamari. (Though scattered between the bar, the kitchen and the back room, the band looked like the Fat Albert Gang gone to Juilliard).

Overheard: "I got fucked on the deal, but it wasn't my fault, it was my lawyer's."

The Icing: Spitting distance from the Mint, the world's greatest karaoke bar. Go ahead and cross the street for a song----isn't it time you became the main event?

The Tip: Mecca's too classy to serve as much of a meat-market. But if you are cruised, realize there are a lot worse places to be picked up. So give out that number. It's later than you think.

3565 Geary Blvd.

The Scene: The latest incarnation of this Geary Boulevard spot has a big, open cruise-ship kind of feel to it, which sadly does little to compensate for its utter lack of soul. A supper club in the Richmond----would love to have been around for that "concept" meeting.

The Style: The South Peninsula hits the city limits, and the results are not pretty. Big hair, bad shoes, too many unnatural fibers to count.

The Eats & Drinks: Unusual Cal-Asian menu, offering the likes of "Oriental Roast Duck Pizza." As for the bar, it made us consider whether drinking bottled beer was so bad after all. Our best guess about our sickly Cosmopolitan is that it was made with melted Sweet Tarts.

The Sounds: Here's where it gets surreal. Reportedly, swarms of early twentysomethings pack the place when popular DJs spin house and hip-hop. On one recent Saturday night, however, a distinctly
un-packed house sat through a lineup of
would-be Star Search contestants doing their best karaoke routines to tunes by Earth, Wind & Fire and Mariah Carey. Ouch.

The Icing: Good fodder for thinking of slogans like "Orocco, where every night is amateur night."

The Tip: Do not pass 'Go' unless under the influence of chemical substances.

Sol y Luna
475 Sacramento St.

The Scene: A few tables, a small bar and a dance floor that feels very Downtown, Big City, though it quickly becomes an out-of-body experience. Think American bar in Europe, only in S.F.'s Financial District. Witness the piles of hungry Euro-bears lining the walls waiting for the little bunnies to hop in. Is that a disco ball in the air or are you just glad to see me?

The Style: The guys: lots of Latino boys, putting on their best Antonio Banderas (ponytail recommended but not required, they'll give you a clip-on at the door); the girls: skirts are short and tight (and in a few reported cases, plaid), hair is blond, and drinks are on the boys.

The Eats & Drinks: Tapas city. Marinated beef, roasted garlic, stuffed peppers----you know the drill. Cheap and edible, but it's still a long way from Mexico, not to mention the Mission. The bar is full and fruitful and makes a mean margarita.

The Sounds: Schizophrenic. Thumping, pumping disco tunes some nights, with a healthy dose of house; your best bet is to catch the Latin jazz and flamenco bands that play regularly.

The Icing: Men caught winking at other men's dates when their own dates are looking away. Also, after a few hours, arching one's neck to peer down someone else's low-cut neckline becomes a surprisingly natural thing to do.

The Tip: Sol y Luna feels like the high school dance you thought you never had to go back to. As in high school, if you enter with a few drinks already down the hatch and a better-than-expected attitude, you'll probably have a good time.

1751 Fulton St.

The Scene: An attempt to re-capture the spirit of Fillmore Street in the '50s, when it earned the title "Harlem of the West" with its many jazz bars. The result is a sparsely populated neighborhood bar that seems exceedingly overdecorated. There's no cover for the bar, but a steep charge will get you into the tiny back room, where headline acts play.

The Style: Whatever you do, don't wear red, for fear of blending into the overwhelmingly red interior----we're talking walls, carpet, the works----and having the waitress ignore you all night.

The Eats & Drinks: Not the place to go if fine dining is what you're after. The small menu of American and New Orleans­style cooking is underwhelming at best. With Plaza Foods right across the street, it makes you wonder if there might be a bit of take-out on your plate.

The Sounds: The good news is you're likely to find some big names on the bill here. The bad is that you'd better not count on a long set, as they can be rather brief. On many nights, you can catch owner Don Pender's quartet out front gratis. Pender, who fetchingly refers to "Miles" and "Diz," can be found on vibraphone and alto sax and seems to thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to perform.

The Icing: Where else can you get a drink and catch some jazz in the Panhandle?

The Tip: Skip the cover charge and watch the back-room act on the giant TV screen in the bar.

330 Ritch
330 Ritch St.

The Scene: While "eclectic" would be too strong a word to describe the vibe, the mixed crowd seems right at home amid the exposed brick and dark wood adorning this spacious yet intimate SOMA spot, boasting a particularly attractive bar and a dance floor that means business; the kind of place you can safely go to with a gaggle of co-workers, or even your visiting parents if they are feeling kind of spunky.

The Style: It had to happen: the attack of the baby backpacks. Beyond the presence of these obnoxious accessories you'll find an eclectic blend of suspender-wearing swing dancers, software sales standard attire (hey, nice Dockers!) and your smattering of ubiquitous black fashion staples. Overall, we give the crowd a pretty wholesome rating. (Except, of course, for that couple devouring each other at their table. It's enough to make you toss your garlic fries.)

The Eats & Drinks: Why eat out when you can fill up at home? Advice to heed when heading to 330 Ritch. While the menu wins our award for "Cheapest Supper Club Fare," we could just hear Mother whisper, "You get what you pay for," as we picked through a lifeless soy-ginger chicken salad, garlic fries that suspiciously resembled recycled tater tots and----what else?----a plate of fried calamari.

The Sounds: Something for everyone: Free swing dancing lessons on Wednesdays, acts vary on Thursdays, disco/funk "old style" on Fridays, salsa night every Saturday, and gay tea dance on Sunday. To its credit, 330 Ritch sports a busier dance floor than any other club we visited. On a good night, the band, and the crowd, are truly money.

The Icing: Begs the question: What is the proper etiquette for dancing with a cigar, ladies?

The Tip: Gentlemen, if you fancy the kind of pretty gals that hang at our pal Ted's apartment (you know, Upper Haight with a one-way ticket leaving soon for the Inner Sunset), this is the place for you.

Up & Down Club
1151 Folsom St.

The Scene: A mix of young yet in a way mature hipsters, as interested in their own conversations as the music, plus the requisite couple of boomers lurking at the bar. On the night we went, there was a seat at the bar that was home to a rotation of attractive middle-aged men traveling solo and staring into their drinks as if each had just been fired from his job at Pac Bell or dumped by his mistress. But, like most of the weekday crowd at Up & Down, no one's out to steal your date or sleep with your sister. A shockingly low supply of blondes.

The Style: Not the spot for jeans and a T-shirt, though not quite your parents' supper club either. A little bit S.F., a little bit L.A., a little bit Europe (you know, where they really appreciate jazz). Guys:
low-key, stylish Italian wear, loosened ties, maybe a button down; Girls: not a bad place to wear that dress you like so much: not the mini-mini from North Beach, silly, but the more refined one you picked up in New York.

The Eats & Drinks: You've seen it all before, not that there's anything wrong with it: sautéed calamari, jazzed-up fries and salads. If we had paid closer attention, we probably would have stumbled across a dish involving polenta.

The Sounds: Some of the best small jazz acts in town, and it doesn't take too big a bite out of your disposable income. Though the space is small, the music doesn't drown out the crowd, and the crowd doesn't drown out the music.

The Icing: Model Christy Turlington co-owns the joint. Also, a room upstairs offers dance music on some nights, providing something for the kids as well.

The Tip: Weekends, like the rest of SOMA, are a B&T nightmare. Hit the Up & Down midweek: Catch up with a buddy in style, or hear some good grooves with a significant other who still wants to get out but is no longer hanging on your every word. You'll both enjoy the sounds of music.

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From the March 1997 issue of the Metropolitan

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