clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Restaurateurs Behind Vault Steakhouse Are Taking Over the Historic Cliff House Space

Hi Neighbor Hospitality Group will consult on a “collection” of food and beverage outlets to fill the long-vacant Cliff House space

Cliff House Restaurant Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images
Lauren Saria is the editor of Eater SF and has been writing about food, drinks, and restaurants for more than a decade.

It’s been about half a year since the National Parks Service announced the big news that it’d finally selected an operator for the historic Cliff House space. But it’s taken until today, September 13 for the final word on who the lucky entrepreneurs will be. It turns out the legendary restaurant spaces will be taken over by Hi Neighbor Hospitality Group, the team behind a number of successful restaurants in San Francisco and the East Bay including the Vault Steakhouse, Trestle, Mama, and the Madrigal. The building is expected to reopen to the public in late 2024.

According to a press release, Sutro Lands End Partners, LLC, helmed by San Francisco attorney Alexander Leff, has been awarded a 20-year lease for both the Cliff House and a cafe located a block away within the Lands End Visitors Center. Leff has, in turn, partnered with Hi Neighbor Hospitality Group to consult on a collection of venues to fill the landmark building. Infilling high-profile destinations with compelling food and beverage falls well inside Leff’s purview; he’s also involved with the rejuvenation of the Malibu Pier in Malibu.

Ryan Cole, who co-owns Hi Neighbor alongside executive chef Jason Halverson and Tai Ricci, says the vision for the project involves partnering with “multiple operators” to open food and beverage outlets at various price points inside the Cliff House Building. (The NPS also requires the new operators to continue the building’s historic uses “which include a restaurant, café, event space, and retail shop,” according to a press release.) Similar to the Ferry Building on the opposite end of the city, the Hi Neighbor team envisions a mix of fast-casual restaurants, higher-end dining options, and retail filling the building, to create a “uniquely San Francisco experience,” Cole says.

They’ll work with BCV Architecture + Interiors to renovate the space, which has been mostly dark since the onset of the pandemic more than three years ago. BCV, who also worked on the historic Ferry Building renovation, plans to not only make the space conducive to hosting a range of food and beverage outlets but also to “activate the building’s outdoor decks, terraces, and street frontages.”

Notably, the new concept cannot be called “Cliff House.” The Cliff House restaurant operated in the space for decades, most recently by Mary and Dan Hountalas. The couple ran the restaurant for 40 years before giving up the lease in 2020. But prior to doing so “they trademarked the name the ‘Cliff House’ and, when they vacated the building, removed all Cliff House signage from its exterior,” per the release. It’s undetermined at this point what the new project's name will be.

The neo-classic building, which sits above Ocean Beach on the far west edge of the city, was originally opened in 1863 and has served as home to a restaurant pretty much ever since. Over the decades, it’s become a San Francisco and California landmark, appreciated in part for its sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and the Sutro Bath ruins below.

Cole says both the Hi Neighbor team and Leff hope to gather input from the community as they begin work on the project. He encourages interested parties to visit the Cliff House Future website and share their memories and photos of the building, in order to help the new stewards shape its next chapter. “I think we take the responsibility seriously of this iconic place,” Cole says. “We’re trying to create something that lasts for another 160 years.”