Presidio Social Club
563 Ruger St.
Near Lombard Gate
San Francisco, CA 94129
10, 2007 | SAN FRANCISCO I
am a rather nostalgic person, with a particular soft spot for
most objets from the ’20s-’40s; a little kid
once said I was like an old lady with my collection of handbags,
scarves, and Bakelite bracelets. Thanks kid—you now get nothing
in my will. (Ha ha! Although he was totally right.)
to say, my inner old lady was eagerly awaiting the opening of ~PRESIDIO
SOCIAL CLUB~ in
historic Army barracks, one of only four remaining structures in
the Army’s East Cantonment, which
at one time even housed the Buffalo
(For you fellow history buffs, there’s an old pic of the
I was pleased to see how restaurateurs Ray Tang and Shawn Kearney-Tang
took the historical provenance seriously but still had fun with
it, creating a retro Americana outpost full of vintage touches
that never feel heavy handed. (No Johnny Rockets experience here.)
The cherry red vintage drum set by the door is about as cheerful
as the ladies at the host stand, but it was the long and gleaming
marble bar that really vectored me in, with shining stainless steel
cases behind the bar that are my kind of medicine cabinets. Hallelujah,
there are lots of them. (Bottles, and cabinets.)
bar gets pretty packed with folks swilling a good number of classics
(French 75s, Sidecars, and the now-ubiquitous Aviation) plus
some nouveau numbers (gimlet with mezcal, the Gunpowder cocktail
with cayenne)—there are 16 or so cocktails total. Most
clock in at about $7 (but don’t expect fishbowl-sized martini
glasses here—these are more old-school in size, as in petite).
You can also get the house margarita for only $5.
vibe is boisterous, fueled by margie- and meat-fueled lads at
the tree-trunk communal table, or the tables of fillies drinking
pinot noir, and the open layout encourages plenty of checking
each other out. Banquettes are the color of a good ristretto,
and the lighting is just the right level of dim. (Designer Olle
Lundberg also did the
Slanted Door.) There are tall palms and ferny plants (no, I am
not much of a horticulturist) and lazily spinning overhead fans—the
clapboard building and its interior look make it feel very USO-meets-Dirty
Dancing. It will be gorgeous during lunchtime with all the light
streaming in from the wall of windows.
all-American menu looks like it was transported from San Francisco
circa 1941, and the prices, while not offering abalone for $2
and Celery Victor for 40¢, are downright affordable. I couldn’t
resist the Cannibal Sandwich ($9), slices of carpaccio-esque beef
topped with sweet Maui onion, capers, chives, and hard boiled egg—like
a deconstructed steak tartare draped on marbled rye bread. Delish.
inner (New Yorker) old lady couldn’t pass up the Deli-Style
Chopped Liver ($5), a hearty scoop of thick and creamy livery goodness
studded with hard-boiled egg and served with rye bread (duh), plus
a pile of cornichons that just weren’t quite snappy enough.
(Tang found his inspiration for this recipe from the Second Ave
Deli in New York, which was an East Village institution.)
seem to be enamored with the Gruyere Cheese Toasts ($8), which
is basically a grilled cheese sandwich cut into four little triangles
(yes, fancy style) with a side of tomato soup for dunking; I
asked why it was called fondue tomato dip on the menu and it
ends up it has loads of butter in it—sometimes ignorance is bliss. So all in all, it’s
like a gourmet take on a soup and sandwich special.
meat-heavy menu has some classics on there, like Grilled Calf’s
Liver ($15) and Range Veal Paillard ($18)—I opted for the
Roasted Sonoma Chicken ($16) which had nice flavor of garlic and
herbs, and you get an entire half a chicken, but the breast arrived
far too dry. Brine that puppy, perhaps? The Club Flat Iron Steak
($19) sat under a (yikes, too plentiful) scoop of peppercorn butter,
and while ordered medium rare showed up pretty darned rare. I dig
rare, so I was cool with it, but some folks would have had to send
are a couple fish dishes as well, but I didn’t see
anything overtly vegetarian, except the salads, sides, or mac & cheese.
I’m sure you veggies could ask the kitchen to whip something
up. Mains come with a choice of sides, like (yay!) tender horseradish
spaeztle, spinach, or my inner (English) old lady’s personal
fave were the delicious mushy peas with mint.
had to investigate the Kobe Beer Rib Sloppy Joe ($15), which
is made with the rib meat between the back ribs—props for
the clever use of the scraps. But not qualifying it as “American
Kobe” was a small peeve. I have a feeling this dish will
leave folks divided. It’s darned rich, to be expected, and
the sweet sauce infused with clove, cinnamon, and other spices
might be too fragrant for some, while others will simply love its
sloppy meaty Manwich-ness.
It’s all homey fare, and designed to be approachable and
satisfying. While nothing made me do total back flips, in the end,
it’s not really that style of food, in part because it’s
so familiar. As for the kinks, I imagine it’s only going
to get better as they hit their stride.
will say dessert got me totally fired up. The baked-to order
Chocolate Cupcakes (all desserts $7) with the crunchy croccante
topping were très charmant, and the lemon meringue special
with layers of curd and cake and cream was lemony bliss—no
wonder it sells out. The Banana Cream Pie is more like a little
tart instead of a big ole wedge of pie, with custard and cubes
of banana covered in a fluffy hat of cream and a couple curls of
hazelnut chocolate. One forkful and the whole things falls down,
but it all ends up tasting delicious in your mouth. There are also
$4 sides, like Chocolate Pudding, or Vanilla Parfait too.
expect to see so many European choices on the tight wine list,
with about one choice for each varietal (except the biggies like
chard, pinot and zin, which each had a couple wineries to choose
from). The price range has something for everyone, including
five whites and five reds available in a glass or half carafe
size, plus there is a house white (chard) and red (cab).
trot around in aprons that reminded me of striped railroad hats
or coveralls, plus they sport a red tie and white shirt. Snappy.
While friendly and fun, many don’t quite have it all together
yet—again, in time I believe it will be a tighter ship. While
you are waiting for your dessert menu to arrive, or your bill,
you can admire a number of thoughtful details, like the cute carafes,
and the red and white tea towels instead of napkins. Or the purse
hooks by the sinks in the ladies room (why thank you), the red
and white floral dessert plates the Tangs actually kept from their
first restaurant, groovy coasters, even the vintage postcard that
arrives in the red embossed check holder at the end all point to
a larger vision and foresight that I am confident knows where everything
ought to be.
attractions: weeknight suppers with dishes like brisket and suckling
pig, lunch, and dining on the large outdoor patio in the back
(plus clambakes and barbecues out there). Oh, and happy hour.
A bonus that’s in effect now is the ample free parking.
Score. There is also a spacious private room for parties. I also
heard of some folks doing total buyouts of the restaurant, which
would make for one heck of a party space (if you’re loaded