The San Francisco Ballet kicks off its 2016 season with a glittering opening gala this Thursday night at San Francisco City Hall and War Memorial Opera House in Hayes Valley. The 83rd repertory season of the ballet company runs from January 24 through May 8 and has eight different programs, three of which are full-length story ballets. The other five programs have two or three pieces each created by a different choreographer. Although tickets to the ballet can be pricy, there is a deal for students enrolled in full time school. If you’re not a student, but a ballet lover between the ages of 21 and 39, I recommend signing up for The List. Every Monday from December to May, you’ll receive an email letting you know if there are any $25 tickets that week. The tickets are often in spectacular seats — you just have to be able to attend the show with less advance notice. Of course, if you’re dabbling in classical culture, why not make a night of it and indulge in something else that this city is famous for? Cocktails! Located in the heart of the city, the War Memorial Opera House is within walking distance to some of SF’s top restaurants and bars. In the mood for an icy cold martini and platter of oysters on the half shell before the show? Want a tiki cocktail after the curtain falls? Here are four beloved spots to to try cocktails in San Francisco near the Ballet.
Jardinière has been meeting the needs of ballet patrons for the past 18 years. Chef Traci Des Jardins signature restuarant serves up California cuisine with classical French technique. The restaurant is directly behind the opera house on the corner of Grove and Franklin Streets. The dining room is upstairs, but downstairs there is a lounge area and an oval-shaped bar with plenty of seats. Grab one and order a cocktail off the inventive list. The Darkest Dawn, a mixture of rye, Barolo chinato, walnut liqueur, and bitters, is a potent, but well-balanced mixture. Stop by before the show and the restaurant and bar will be crowded or pop in after the ballet — on weekend evenings during ballet season, food is often served late at Jardinère, so if you’re hungry you can order a platter of housemade charcuterie and duck fat fries.
Boxing Room is two blocks behind the theater on Grove and Gough. The open all-day restaurant specializes in Cajun cuisine and the atmosphere evokes the liveliness of a New Orleans eatery. There’s plenty of room at the long curved bar that runs the entire back length of the restaurant and is connected to the open kitchen. Boxing Room specializes in cocktails inspired by the South; sip an expertly made Sazerac, Ramos gin fizz, Mint Julep, Hurricane, or nurse one of five highballs all made with artisanal sodas. If you’re attending a Saturday matinee of the ballet, Boxing Room is the ideal spot for revelry after the show. A midday menu is served, so you can fuel up on traditional Creole snacks like hushpuppies with pepper jelly, barbecued shrimp, and my personal favorite: oysters Simoneaux, a scrumptious baked oyster topped with celery, red pepper, onion, ham, and parmesan cheese.
Taking the whole family to see one of the full length story ballets — Swan Lake, Coppélia, or Onegin? Reserve a table for your group at Zuni Cafe and head there before the ballet. Zuni does have a bar, but it doesn’t have stools and is for standing patrons only. With a bustling, cozy, and inviting atmosphere, large stunning floral arrangements, and interesting seating plan, this San Francisco institution is a wonderful spot for a celebration, so get dressed up and make a night of it. Order that aforementioned icy cold martini and platter of local oysters on the half shell. Do make time for Zuni’s signature dish: wood-fire brick-oven roast chicken with warm bread salad. It takes an hour to prepare, but is worth the wait and the hype. The pizza, French fries, and burgers are kid friendly menu options. Zuni has an extensive wine and spirits list, so if you want something other booze order a glass of sparkling rose. Toast to the upcoming performance of the ballet!
If you simply want beverages and food is not a priority, head to Smuggler’s Cove. It’s the perfect place for drinks after Program 5, which features a cheeky piece called Swimmer, a multi-media look at 1960s Americana in which the dancers where bathing suits and sip faux cocktails. It was last season’s must see ballet and will definitely have you craving a fun, tiki-inspired libation. You’ll find plenty of these on offer at Smuggler’s Cove, literally a buccaneer’s den of a bar. With three floors, two bars, an indoor waterfall, and so much pirate paraphernalia, it’s like a show in itself. The complicated cocktails sometimes take a little longer to make — especially when Smuggler’s is packed on weekend nights — so be prepared to wait (it’s worth it!) for your rum punch.
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