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Bar Fare

[whitespace] Elysium
David Fortin

Late-Night Eats: Elysium's bar menu alleviates nocturnal hunger pangs.

A smattering of night spots lay out spreads to satiate the late-night munchies

By Paul Adams

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has a statute which requires any establishment in the state of Oregon serving alcohol to make food available to patrons as well. Often the food is of a low-overhead, frozen/microwaveable caliber, but there are a fair number of Oregon bars that have invested in serious kitchens and can muster more than just a passable meal.

The story here in libertine California is rather different. Liquor is handily available on every corner, and bar-goers are encouraged to drink on as empty a stomach as they please. Indeed, the bar that provides food, particularly later in the evening, is quite a rare entity in San Francisco. All too often one finds oneself hungry in a bar after midnight, with no options but buying nasty old snacks at the corner store or going home early to drunkenly ransack the fridge.

I wish I could say there's a thriving movement to put an end to this nocturnal famine, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Only a handful of bars in town offer food and drink late ("late" in this instance means between midnight and 2am; "real late" is unheard of), and none of them is quite the panacea one would wish. Where are the casual, plush, uncrowded, well-kept, well-stocked bars that offer a large, top-quality menu until closing time?

Here are some of our finds:

Edinburgh Castle, known as "the Scottish bar" in the theater circles that frequent it, has food from the nearby fish 'n' chips joint, available until maybe 1am on Friday and Saturday and 11 other nights. They're everything you want from fish 'n' chips, assuming it's fish 'n' chips that you want: delicious, light, wrapped in a newspaper.

El Bobo is a newish South of Market venue. It's generally a peaceful, comfortable environment, pleasantly lit, with a wide assortment of beers and a relatively benign crowd. They have a small menu of tasty but heavy foods, which they stop serving at 11 on weeknights and midnight Friday and Saturday.

Newly arrived on the dining map, Absinthe stops serving meals early but has a bar menu available until 1am. This includes their very nice sautéed spinach and other pleasing Mediterranean-style snacks, as well as their selection of oysters. There's sometimes interesting people-watching, which if it persists may make Hayes Valley a decent drinking destination at last.

Globe is a little removed from the thick of things, but miraculously, it is possible to get an actual meal there long after other kitchens' deep-fryers have cooled and their staffs showered, changed and gone dancing. The food is comforting and Italianate and can be very good. There's even a little outdoor seating.

Bruno's the restaurant closes at 11, but their tasty appetizers and desserts are still around until 1am in the bar and the lounge (whose cute official name I unfortunately forget at the moment). There is usually a band of some sort and many loud patrons; if these become too much, you can go across the street to Elysium.

Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Elysium has a bar menu (according to one of the seemingly arbitrary but invariable laws of nature governing the operation of these establishments, all of the bar menus mentioned in this article list between five and eight items, at least one of which, generally, is potatoes). They also have koi (not on the menu) and, as has been noted, one of the more charismatic populations of the San Francisco bar world.

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The short list.

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Shanghai 1930 is another new place (say, maybe the nighttime diner is being increasingly accommodated) with a bar menu available until 1am on weekends. The bar menu here is nowhere near the caliber of the regular menu, consisting as it does of lackluster and sometimes oddly conceived snacks which reflect neither the tradition nor the lushness of the dinners. Still, the ambiance and drinks are superlative.

Enrico's is kind of a scene, and the drink prices go up when the band goes on, but they do serve until 1am on weekends and midnight on weekdays, and they have a very pleasant patio. The food is nothing special, but it's food. Italian.

Zuni has meals until midnight. That's not very late, but the food is quite good. Chilled oysters and vodka? Roast chicken and wine? Cognac and cheese? Zuni's got it, plus atmosphere.

How many is that? Nine? Well, you're the public. If that's not enough, clamor for more. And always exercise moderation when drinking and eating.

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From the April 20-May 3, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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