Next month a new manifestation of an iconic San Francisco bar will rise up and resume its place in the city’s glittering skyline. Starlite, a revival of the former Harry Denton’s Starlight Room, opens atop the Beacon Grand Hotel on Friday, February 2, serving updated versions of classic cocktails from Trick Dog’s Scott Baird alongside a menu of small plates from Washington, D.C.-based chef Johnny Spero. The bar and lounge, with its legendary views of the city sprawling below, has been designed by Alice Crumeyrolle, previously of Ken Fulk Inc., and will host nightly vinyl DJ sets from music director Nina Tarr.
Lisa Marchese, chief commercial officer of Northview Hotel Group, which owns the Beacon Grand, says it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring back such a storied piece of San Francisco history. With a fresh look and menu, the team hopes to reinstall the bar as a fixture for both visitors and locals: a destination for out-of-town guests to experience a bit of old-school glamour and a place for service workers from around Union Square to come for a post-shift drink. “It kind of mirrors the city in a lot of ways,” Marchese says. “It’s been through a lot of manifestations. The idea is reinventing it and being respectful of what was there in the past. We’ve got the legacy and the heritage to lean into, and we’ve got the reinvention — which feels like where San Francisco is now.”
Baird, who co-founded Trick Dog, the Mission District cocktail bar named among the World’s 50 Best in 2019, says he was thrilled to get the call to help reopen the once-popular Union Square watering hole. “In the 90s and early 2000s, [the Starlight Room] was really a part of the cocktail zeitgeist in San Francisco,” Baird says. “If you were in the industry, the Starlight was the top of the market. Everyone knew it, so it was the aspirational place to either go and learn, or just go and watch and see the magic.”
This time around, however, Baird says the menu aims to keep things relatively simple, focusing on classic drinks — but with a touch more technique and a little bit of drama. For example, the Cable Car Redux gets rolling as a riff on a traditional sidecar, then heads through San Francisco’s Chinatown picking up spiced rum, Chinese five-spice syrup, blood orange, and lemon along the way. Then it gets wrapped in a “Muir Woods-scented fog” that billows around customers’ glasses when the cocktail arrives tableside. “It’s so quintessentially San Francisco and the color of the drink is the color of a cable car,” Baird says. “It’s just a delicious sidecar, ultimately, but it was really fun to reimagine that drink and then make the theatrics surrounding it.”
For food, expect fun bar bites such as a hot fried chicken bun seasoned with Szechuan spices and pickled daikon or baked oysters shrouded in a sauce made of cider, egg, brown butter, and herbs. Everything should be easy to eat even as you relax into the bar’s jewel-toned chairs or perch at one of the low-slung cocktail tables — which is to say: there’s no silverware required. For a post-dinner snack, head up to the 21st floor for churro tiramisu, a dessert adorned with a long, deep-fried coffee-flavored churro that’s dusted with chocolate, mascarpone frosting, and black cocoa.
When it came to the design, Crumeyrolle leaned into a rich green color palette, with pops of pattern and playful touches like swinging tassels and fringe. Cozy nooks and intimate seating areas throughout the space make the bar an ideal backdrop for a date night out, while the sweeping views and lively music aim to attract large groups celebrating birthdays or any special event. Marchese says Crumeyrolle and the design team also worked to give the bar texture by layering new and found items. For example, while some of the furniture was custom-made for the new Starlite, some items from the bar’s eclectic art collection and miscellaneous objects scattered through rooms came from local vintage stores and the Alameda Point Antiques Faire. “We wanted to create a space that felt intimate, that embraced the skyline but wasn’t just about looking out the window,” Marchese says.
Starlite’s return comes amid a challenging time for San Francisco and its downtown. Though the area around Union Square has experienced a recent cocktail bar boom including the opening of the glamourous Holbrook House and jazz bar the Dawn Club, the city continues to make a slow recovery from the impact of the pandemic. Nevertheless, the team hopes a relatively approachable price point, an unfussy and playful menu, and an eye-catching design will make the new Starlite a shining beacon for downtown tourists and locals. “It’s not a special occasion bar,” Baird says. “It just happens to be a special bar on the top of a hotel.”
Starlite is located at The Beacon Grand (450 Powell Street, San Francisco) and will be open from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday through Saturday and from 2 to 11 p.m. on Sunday.