When Phil Chen and the team behind SoMa’s new restaurant and bar, the Harlequin, first stepped into their new space at Fourth and Jessie streets, it was completely unchanged from when former tenant Keystone shutdown due to the pandemic in 2020. Bottles and items remained as if “everyone just got up and left,” Chen says. Yet, he knew the space’s potential from his early 2000s office days, when he frequented the corner spot for happy hours with co-workers, back when it was known as Annabelle’s Bar and Bistro. Given the bar’s proximity to hotels — not to mention its location inside the Mosser Hotel — as well as the Moscone Center and downtown offices, the Harlequin represents an important opportunity to help downtown grow and to change the narrative surrounding San Francisco, Chen says. “There’s so many great things about the city,” Chen says, “but I feel like the national focus is on the negative. Our hope is to show that there are people still opening restaurants in downtown.”
The Harlequin, which opens Tuesday, June 13, ushers in a new era for the historic Mosser Building and will look different from the space’s previous iterations as Keystone and Annabelle’s. The bones of the space are still there, such as the patterned tile floor and exposed brick. But the Harlequin team leaned into the historic touches of the 1913 building, letting them lead the way for how they approached creating the restaurant and bar spaces. They’ve reimagined what it would have looked during the Roaring 20s, Chen says, a space that would host a Gatsby-style party, complete with flappers. The darkened interior features touches of old-school glamour, with dark ornamental wallpaper in the main room and the warm glow of the copper-clad Gold Bar. Add on a showstopping ginkgo leaf gold chandelier as a symbol of good luck — “I think we can all use a little bit of that,” Chen says — and you’ve got a place ready to welcome back the downtown crowds. “It is really dramatic and gives a sense that you’re in a whimsical space,” he says.
Chen hopes the Harlequin will be a convenient spot for tourists and convention center visitors, but the team hopes to attract a healthy happy hour office crowd. As such, the food menu heavily favors groups, with a long list of shareable plates and the restaurant’s take on American food. There will be five styles of pizza fired inside the restaurant’s new pizza oven; other group-friendly items include panko-encrusted tofu bites tossed in a ginger-teriyaki sauce, or roasted bone marrow with an optional “sherry luge,” an Instagram-worthy moment that involves taking a sherry shot out of the finished, carved out bone (a carryover from Chen’s other San Francisco bar-restaurant, Members Only).
For larger plates, diners can dig into pastas such as Thai shrimp pasta tossed in a lemony coconut milk sauce, the fried chicken Caesar sandwich, or a two-patty smash burger with American cheese on top. Also notably, there’s a raw bar featuring oysters, as well as items like the salmon tartare, on the menu. The oysters make an appearance on the happy hour menu as well, and cost $2 each from 4 to 6 p.m., along with fries and drink specials.
For the drink menu, the Harlequin team wanted cocktails that are “fun and unique, but not unapproachable,” Chen says. With that, the team focused on relatable drinks that read as distinctive, but with recognizable ingredients. There are mainstays such as an Old Fashioned or the unavoidable espresso martini, but there’s also the rum-based Ube Colada, featuring touches of ube, coconut, and pineapple flavors, with a tart touch of lime. There’s also a sizable wine menu featuring local and international options, and brews on draft, plus a handful of nonalcoholic options. They’re meant to feel just as special as any other cocktail on the menu, such as the Phoenix Rising, which is made with a strawberry-chile shrub and ginger beer. It’s another note they’re taking from lessons learned at Members Only, putting thought into their nonalcoholic options in the spirit of inclusivity, Chen says.
As much as there are naysayers about downtown, the Harlequin team is looking for their opening to be part of a small wave of change around San Francisco, and to prove there’s still a lot happening in the city. “There’s still people out here trying to do fun things and trying to cultivate a sense of nightlife and bring people together,” Chen says. “Hopefully we can continue to open [new places] and focus on the fun things — in a way, we can reimagine downtown.”
The Harlequin (68 Fourth Street) debuts Tuesday, June 13 and is open 4 to 11 p.m., Monday through Wednesday, 4 p.m. to midnight Thursday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and 4 to 11 p.m. on Sunday.