Ciao, amici. Are you starting to feel those glimmers of fall feelings? One minute, you’re playing hooky so you can hit Black Sands beach (that was me on Thursday—it’s written in my “boss of me contract” that it’s mandatory to clock out on October heatwave days, but jeez, the waves were the biggest I have ever seen there), and the next evening, it’s sweater weather. October is truly my favorite month as a San Franciscan.
On Saturday evening, I was taking a couple friends from New Zealand out on the town and I want to share my hopper itinerary with you since it was such a perfect night in the Mission: we started in the early evening with a bottle of Paul Déthune Champagne at 20 Spot (such a great deal, and there’s a reason it’s their house pour) with the Mt. Lassen trout tartare and their fabulous chicken liver mousse with fig jam. Bubbles and beats! And a Bodhi sighting.
Fortunately, we already had a reservation at Loló at 7:45pm, because the place was packed! (So good to see during these challenging times.) Also, how wonderful to see Jorge and Loló in the house! I started with the Perfect Stranger (gin, oloroso, dry vermouth, jalapeño brine, celery, goat’s milk) at the bar (hola, Leon!), always home of some of the best cocktails in the City, and then tasted my pals through a variety of tacos (fried avocado, tuna tacon, fish taco, and the birria quesadilla).
Our last stop was for a nightcap at Wildhawk, and with Suzu behind the bar, of course, it turned into a few. The Bianco dil Rio was the perfect closer (Carpano Bianco, grapefruit peel, dill, white pepper, egg whites, lemon). So, the next time you have friends in town or you want to have the best date night, here’s a fun itinerary for you, with everything within a block of each other.
Sunday night was so special, I’m still buzzin’. I was invited to attend a dinner that Priya Clemens (KQED Newsroom) was hosting at China Live to honor Heather Knight and celebrate her new position as SF bureau chief for The New York Times. What a cool fempire move—everyone, take notes, this is how you honor the women in our lives and their moments of great accomplishments. The luxe Gold Mountain Lounge was full of women in media—from journalists to editors to executives—and let me tell you, spirits were high, conversation was on fire, and so many (re)connections were made as we feasted on dumplings and mapo tofu. Just at my table, I sat with Priya Clemens, Thuy Vu (!), Schuyler Hudak Prionas (The SF Examiner, Nob Hill Gazette), Janet Reilly (Clint Reilly Communications), Mary Huss (president and publisher of the San Francisco Business Times), Marlene Saritzky, and journalist Stacey Lindsay—and there were three other packed tables of boss media women. I feel like many positive things will come from this gathering—just like Heather in her new position. Raising my glass!
If you follow @tablehopper on alllll the social channels, then you already caught the breaking news I shared on Friday about Town Hall closing in its current incarnation after almost 20 years of Sazeracs and perfect pork chops, with Tyler Florence relaunching it in early 2024. We all have so many memories of great times there, so in today’s column, I wanted to take the time to share more thoughts and fond feelings about this important SF restaurant.
I also want to be sure you caught this opinion essay by Anthony Strong of Pasta Supply Co. for The New York Times (go Anthony) about his journey as a resilient restaurateur during the pandemic, and his many observations and adaptations with his latest project.
Like I mentioned in last week’s tablehopper, SF Restaurant Week is coming soon (November 3rd!), and I have a fun giveaway for you (details below) to the Eat Drink SF Cocktail Party at Curio on November 8th. Good luck!
Save the date: on Tuesday November 7th, I’m joining Alex Lauritzen (of vegan pop-up The Mushroom) as a guest for San Francisco Chronicle arts and culture writer Tony Bravo’s new, monthly, live interview show, Show & Tell, at Four One Nine in SoMa. We’ll be talking about hospitality, holiday gatherings, party etiquette, hosting tips, and how to be a fabulous guest. I’d love to see you, there will be martinis. And bites. And spicy banter. Tickets here.
Raising My Glass to an SF Icon: Town Hall Is Closing This Friday, After (Almost) 20 Years of Good Times and Great Food
On Friday, I posted this breaking news on social media. Here’s my post below so you can review the facts behind this big story before reading today’s personal piece, sharing memories and more.
Breaking News: A Passing of the Town Hall Torch
October 20th, 2023
I’ve been tracking a rumor for the past couple weeks about the upcoming and unfortunate closure of SoMa’s iconic Town Hall restaurant, and the news was just officially released that it’s closing in its current incarnation at the end of October. I spoke with co-owner and chef Mitchell Rosenthal, who said the last service is Tuesday October 31st [UPDATE: IT’S NOW THIS FRIDAY OCTOBER 27th], just shy of its 20-year anniversary.
But the Town Hall name will live on. In an interesting twist, Tyler Florence is partnering with real estate investment firm DivcoWest—who owns the Town Hall building, as well as the adjacent 199 Fremont office building—and is taking over all restaurant operations and will reintroduce a new concept under the existing Town Hall name in early 2024. I’m happy to see the Town Hall name and legacy live on in that beautiful space; according to the release: “Florence’s approach for the evolution of Town Hall included a refreshed menu, extended hours, and valet parking.”
Mitch shares: “Town Hall has always been a joy for us, a place everyone could call home. While we’re sorry to see this chapter close, we leave with great pride in what we have accomplished. With its subtle New Orleans charm, awesome food, and warm and wonderful staff, Town Hall has been cherished as a San Francisco star and we will treasure the many wonderful memories we have for years to come.” Chef-owners Mitchell and Steven Rosenthal and co-owner Bjorn Kock are grateful to their longtime staff for their hard work and dedication, especially through these rough recent years. This is a tough closure: so many folks have worked at Town Hall (and their many other restaurants) over the years. It’s a big family.
I’ll be sharing my personal thoughts, memories, and more details in my column on Tuesday. For now, I wanted you to have time to book a reservation so you can get some friends together for a Sazerac and their buttermilk biscuits and country ham, stellar fried chicken, and butterscotch and chocolate pot de crème, of course. I know many will be raising a glass (or two, or three) over the next 7 days of service. 342 Howard St. at Fremont.
October 24th, 2023
I had to get my Friday story about Town Hall posted quickly, but now that I was able to gather my thoughts and have a longer chat with Town Hall co-owner and chef Mitchell Rosenthal, I wanted to properly honor this iconic SF restaurant in today’s column.
Town Hall is sadly closing on October 27th, just a week before what would have been its 20th anniversary (November 6th). Co-owners and chefs Mitchell Rosenthal and his brother Steven both cooked together at the seminal Postrio with Wolfgang Puck, and it’s where they met and worked with general manager Doug Washington, who was the third partner of Town Hall (and their future restaurants)—Washington eventually went on to start a restaurant design and development company in 2014. Current co-owner Björn Kock was also part of the Postrio posse (as AGM), and was brought over as general manager of Town Hall by Washington.
Back in 2003, this part of SoMa was pretty gritty, with empty parking lots and not much going on. But when the Rosenthals and Washington saw the historic Meco (Marine Electric Company) building, they had to do it, even though their friends thought they were crazy. It’s a hulking brick corner building that dates back to 1907, one of the first structures built after the 1906 earthquake. They painted TOWN HALL in vertical letters on both the Howard and Fremont sides, which were uplit at night, and you couldn’t miss the red awnings.
The restaurant opened with a bang, and Mitch reminded me of what an interesting time it was to open, which was just on the upswing after the dot com bomb of the early aughts (A16 and Quince also opened then). Mitch said they wanted Town Hall to be FUN, a quality that was so important to them. And they wanted to offer casual but still dialed service. He mentioned that Doug was worried about them opening with a Southern-inspired menu, which was pretty different from what other restaurants were doing at that time, but it was the food SF needed!
Quickly, dishes began to assert themselves as Town Hall classics: the BBQ shrimp, the tuna tartare, the butterscotch and chocolate pot de crème, and eventually, the fried chicken (I recall they used to inject it with butter and hot sauce), the roasted veal meatballs, and the epic pork chop all claimed their rightful thrones on the menu. The food was hearty and gluttonous, but also refined and complex. The extra touches, the sauces, the creative ingredients... It had its own style and sophistication. I learned about country ham, thanks to Town Hall, and the joy of pimento cheese on their house buttermilk biscuits (I loved having all three on the table).
I remember being invited to dine there in the early days of my food writing career by the magical Faith Wheeler, who was their publicist, creative consultant, and brand visionary (thanks to Kenya Lewis for the intro)—I was always fascinated by the next-level insights Faith infused into the restaurants she repped. Mitch tells me she said to them, “You need something cheesy and eggy on the menu,” and that’s how the memorable Faith’s Cheese Toast made its way on there (it will be back on the menu for this final week of service).
I dug through my old emails (you don’t even know the archive I have over here), and found this note I wrote to Faith after my first visit (dated February 8, 2005):
“Sweet lady, oh lordy was that one of the most enjoyable meals I have had in SF for a LONG time, let me tell you! That restaurant is FLAWLESS—they are all so professional and warm, the environment is sexy and convivial and so uniquely stylish all at the same time…Lady, I love that one of the most delicious croques in the city is named after you! That jalapeno cream over the perfectly cooked poached egg was heaven. The portions of the apps and entrees are downright commendable—I can see how you would really get what you’re paying for. Rob had the spinach with the cornmeal oysters and big hunks of lardons, YUM. I did the fabuluxe trio of rabbit (the bacon and mustard and coffee jus preparation was my hands-down favorite) and rob had the trout. Dessert was an embarrassment of decadence; their hot chocolate is going to haunt me, and rob did cartwheels over the butterscotch pot de crème—look out bradley ogden! :) Town Hall is such a special place, and congrats to you on your fab client. The place was packed on a Monday night, wow.”
Here we are, 19 years later, and I still remember that meal and the feeling. The place was a party. The communal table in the front (the City's first!) was always packed and where you’d make new friends (and find a thought-provoking or cheeky quote on the blackboard), while the bar would be a couple folks deep, ordering Vieux Carrés and Sazeracs, waiting hopefully for a table. I’d see Bjorn tearing around the room with his toothy grin, the graceful Haley Moore pouring wine, and so much bar talent worked there over the years, plus too many great servers to count, and such fantastic cooks. It was a place where FOH and BOH were both on fire. I was always proud to bring out-of-town friends to Town Hall (or send them there) for memorable and fun meals that would have them walking out tipsy and full and happy. They would feel taken care of and warmly welcomed. Such exemplary hospitality.
And then there were their party parties! Their annual Mardi Gras party was legendary, with oysters and cocktails and crawfish and live music and dancers and hangovers for all. Mitch told me one of the parties had 700 people! He fondly remembers seeing drummer Donny Baldwin (Jefferson Starship) playing for the first set one night, and Ziggy “Zigaboo” Modeliste (The Meters) playing drums for the second set, what a night. Music was a huge part of Town Hall’s vibe.
And there was Faith’s talent show party (you had to be there). And how many wedding receptions and celebrations have been in that upstairs room? (Lucky you if you had director of events and marketing Steven Oliver overseeing your event—and if your restaurant needs event help for the holidays, I can get you in touch with him.) Even when they launched Town Hall BBQ on their outdoor patio, it was a lunch party, with Steven and Mitch in his porkpie hat serving up ribs and links with live music. And the front patio at happy hour? Always hopping. The place was guaranteed to give you a serotonin boost.
Over the years, the team (as Stock & Bones Group) went on to open more successful restaurants in the neighborhood: Salt House (2007), Anchor & Hope (2008), two locations of La Capra Coffee (2014), and the pizzeria Jersey (2015; the Rosenthals wanted to pay homage to their East Coast roots). With everything being clustered nearby in SoMa, the team was able to bounce around to each location and stay hands-on and see their many regulars.
There was always an artistic and handcrafted sensibility to their historic spaces, from the dramatic light fixtures and artwork at Town Hall, to the special metalwork at Salt House, to opening Anchor & Hope in sculptor Beniamino Bufano’s former studio. Their spaces were urban, and energetic, and offered a unique SF and SoMa aesthetic.
And, tragically, SoMa became one of the most hard-hit neighborhoods during the pandemic—absolute tumbleweeds. Anchor & Hope and Salt House both closed during the pandemic, and after trying to ride the waves, Jersey had to close as well. Mitch says, “It was such a blur. We all thought the pandemic was going to be three months.” Sigh. He goes on to add: “It’s sad, we lost six businesses. And now we don’t have any presence in SF now, which is hard after so many years operating here. I’ve been here since 1989!” My mind reels for them. Mitch doesn’t know what his next steps will be in the Bay Area, but spoken like a true chef: “I still want to cook!” Last February, the Rosenthals and Kock opened a Spanish-Mediterranean restaurant in a sea of steakhouses in Scottsdale, Arizona, Arboleda, so that’s one project that currently has them busy.
The team is happy seeing many friends’ and regulars’ names on the reservation books for these last evenings of service, and they’re hosting a party for past Town Hall staff and fam, which is assuredly going to be one for the books. I mentioned how many amazing servers have worked for them over the years, and Mitch was quick to correct me: “Servers who worked with us. To run a restaurant, you don’t do it by yourself.” That’s very much the essence of this special restaurant group that had a great run, and did their best as seasoned operators to make it through the most horrid conditions. I know so many folks share similar fond memories and stories and feelings, so book a table or come by for a final Hemingway Daiquiri and tell them so. Town Hall’s last night of service is now this Friday October 27th.
As for what’s next for Town Hall in 2024, I reached out to Tyler Florence’s team, and received this thoughtful comment from Tyler: “I am such a fan of the Rosenthal brothers and their culinary contribution to the City of San Francisco, dating back to the days of Postrio. Not only do we all love San Francisco but we are neighbors in Marin County. The Americana vibe is so in my wheelhouse growing up in South Carolina and spending 15 years in New York City. My team and I look forward to carrying on the tradition of this cherished institution. We would never dare change the name of Town Hall the way no one would change the name of Tadich Grill, Sam’s Grill and Seafood, or Swan Oyster Depot, but simply adding a refresh of the interior, our excellent warm hospitality, and an American menu worthy of the location's legacy.”
Here’s to keeping a light on.
I wanted to include a couple awesome-sounding pop-up events I spotted on Instagram.
And I’m so thrilled to see that Bimbo’s 365 Club is hosting a special pop-up dinner this Thursday October 26th, in collaboration with the team at Dolores Deluxe! Here’s more: “Our team has been invited to curate a pop-up THIS WEEK, in collaboration with a new social club series they’re launching (in fact, they used to host these dinners in the 60s so we get to be a part of the renaissance)!
Bimbo’s has been a social pillar in North Beach since 1931, so the menu is giving throwback Italian (swipe for deets). If all goes well, this may become a long-term relationship, so do us a favor and join us THIS THURSDAY for a night of delicious food, immaculate vibes (with some of the sexiest lighting in SF), and live jazz + vinyl allll night looong!”
Take a look at DD’s post for a peek at the $60 menu, and here’s the link for tickets so you can book a table. I really hope they host this again, how brilliant. I can’t wait to attend the next one!
the sugar mama
San Francisco Restaurant Week and Eat Drink SF Return November 3rd—Enter to Win Tickets to the EDSF Cocktail Party at Curio!
Enter to win two tickets to the Eat Drink SF Cocktail Party at Curio Bar & Restaurant in the Mission on Wednesday November 8th.
SF Restaurant Week and Eat Drink SF are all about showcasing San Francisco’s incredible culinary scene through ticketed dining events and Restaurant Week prix-fixe specials from over 150 participating restaurants.
- Brunch or Lunch (2+ Items or Courses): $10, $15, $25, $30, $40
- Dinner (3+ Items or Courses): $30, $45, $65, $75, $90