The Vault led the trend this summer as one of the biggest outdoor dining setups in San Francisco, moving the entire restaurant out from underneath the Bank of America building, and up into the fresh air of the courtyard at California and Kearny. Speaking with Eater SF in early fall, chef Robin Song sounded uneasy, unsure how that setup could continue in colder months. But now here we are: Indoor dining is still closed. The holidays are upon us. And restaurants are doing what little they can, rolling out heat lamps and putting up twinkle lights.
The Vault is revamping its outdoor space yet again, this time with a winter wonderland theme, trying in the face of everything to keep it merry and bright. That courtyard was already known for its massive Christmas tree, which will still be lit this year on Saturday, November 28, even in the absence of office workers rushing by with boxes and bags. The restaurant set up two clear tents, both 80 feet long, which partially cover 100 seats, while still letting air flow. They rearranged their 20 space heaters, already procured over the summer. And they’re offering blankets that are laundered daily and hand warmers. The Vault declined to comment on how much these arrangements cost.
For those willing to brave the elements, the menu and decor do indeed look festive. There’s a proper prime rib roast dinner complete with a little gems Caesar salad and a Yorkshire pudding, offered as a prix fixe for $75. The a la carte menu stars latke tots with caviar, lobster risotto with brandy cream, and apple-spiced beignets. The cocktail list includes a hot apple cocktail with bourbon, cider, brown butter, and pecan bitters. (See the full menu, below.) And Radeff Design Studios has taken care of all the trimmings, decking out the space with twinkle lights, fresh garlands, and red flowers.
Here in San Francisco, the Vault joins other restaurants that are attempting to winterize their spaces, as the SF Chronicle and East Bay Times have described. The EBT mentions one restaurant offering blankets, and then having to launder them after each use. But beyond tents and heat lamps, there’s really not much more to report. Restaurants have already spent $20,000 or more to build outdoor parklets. Here in California, we’re fortunate to have relatively temperate weather, while elsewhere across the country, Midwestern restaurants faced the chill two months ago, for example.
But in the absence of other downtown holiday sights, it’s a bright spot in an otherwise dim holiday season. The life-size gingerbread house at the Fairmont is cancelled, and the lobby is closed to the public, the hotel regrets. The holiday windows at Macy’s won’t be filled with puppies and kittens, although the SPCA does have a live kitty cam, as some small consolation. But at least you can eat prime rib under a sparkly Christmas tree, if you so wish. We’ll see if diners are willing to bundle up.