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Starlite shines again in San Francisco

The iconic property got a makeover that pays homage to the past

Since opening in 1928, Starlight in San Francisco's Union Square long held the spotlight on the dining out scene. That is, until it didn't anymore, and modern style trumped the elegant space after an unfortunate redesign.

Now run by the Northview Hotel Group, the team has dedicated time and money to give the storied building an antique-inspired makeover with modern sensibilities woven in. What was once the Sir Francis Drake Hotel has now been rechristened as the Beacon Grand, and the 418-room hotel rises in glory. But perhaps, most importantly, the hotel reintroduced Starlite, née Starlite Room, as a destination for food, drink and, at 21 stories up, a stunning view of San Francisco.

"As we rolled into 2023 we read story after story about struggling Union Square and San Francisco. Both the hotel and the neighborhood needed an injection of life," said Lisa Marchese, chief commercial officer of Northview Hotel Group and the Starlite brand concept spokesperson. "We went over an interesting retrospect of the history and manifestations of Starlite over the decades and we had a working vernacular of how we wanted to marry the past and future, and it wasn't a repetition of what it had been, or a historical spot for spectacle’s sake."

The goal was to celebrate the character and past of the venue, while redefining what a timeless classic could be, she added. Hence, Starlite has an Art Deco style thanks to designer Alice Crumeyrolle and features custom fabrics, unique furniture pieces, rich velvet accents, marble tables, and swivel chairs so guests can turn around and follow the sunset. It's all at once an intimate spot to enjoy a date and a hip place to see and be seen.

"We didn't spend millions and millions of dollars but ended up with a million-dollar space," Marchese said.

The hotel officially reopened last year, but as of February 2, aside from the stunning decor, tourists, guests of the hotel, and locals alike can enjoy high-end food, drink, and hospitality programs. At the bar, the menu was curated by Scott Baird of San Francisco's Trick Dog fame. There's also the small-bite-focused food menu, created by chef Johnny Spero, well known for places including the Michelin-starred Reverie in Washington, DC. Overall the concept is meant to be elegant yet casual, old school but new, and in essence, a place that reignites interest the area.

The menu features small plates such as a baked oysters, churro tiramisu, and a hot fried chicken bun inspired by Spero’s jaunt through San Francisco’s Chinatown. They’re priced between $10 and $22. Many of the dishes were designed with the cocktails in mind, both in flavor and presentation.

"Spero, he always bring a little humor in the best way and we were lucky to find Johnny on a break between his projects," said Marchese. "He really knows how to create bar food that's elevated and not fussy, and we didn't want it to feel like a dinner place, but more have snacks paired with cocktails."

Spero also is working on reopening Reverie, which was destroyed in a fire in August of 2022 and is slated to open later this month.

On the beverage side, Baird, a Bay Area native, spent a year on the menu and took inspiration from his hometown, creating fun, playful and memorable drinks based on famous aspects and ideas prevalent in city. Each cocktail comes in its own hand-blown glass, unique to the tipple and the bar.

"Scott, we just fell in love with him and he has so much talent and is an amazing storyteller, the absolute perfect fit," said Marchese. "Plus his ethos is to make drinks accessible and not wait 20 minutes, which fit in with how we want it to be a local's bar with amazing drinks, and a mix between blue collar and highbrow."

Drinks start at $16 and go up from there, with the most expensive cocktail priced at around $22, which is the Cable Car, a tip of the hat to San Francisco's famous transport vehicles and the fog that falls heavy on the city most mornings. There's also a quiet nod to the Castro neighborhood, known for its gay scene, with the Porn Star Martini, which was invented in London in the early 2000s and at Starlite is made with Grey Goose vodka, passion fruit, lime, vanilla, cacao, and Champagne, and then topped with a bit of sparkle. 

"Everyone is excited," said Marchese. "Everyone seems to have a memory or story that involves Starlite, and we want to continue that."

To create even more of nighttime vibe, guests can enjoy nightly vinyl DJ sets from music director Nina Tarr. Overall, the new Starlite aims to be plugged in people's minds as a hip place to enjoy food, drink, the view, and each other, be that for the night or in between romps around the city.

TAGS: Hotel Dining
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