Get Me to the Show on Time

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It’s a short walk among some of San Francisco’s finest theaters, restaurants and hotels.

When I ran into an old friend that I hadn’t seen in years, five minutes before showtime, I expected to miss the first act. Not so. 

Jane and I chanced to meet in the foyer of the Cortez Restaurant & Bar just as both our parties were leaving. Ten years is a long time; there were husbands to introduce, photos to share. She and her guy were headed for an American Conservatory Theater production at the old Geary. My husband and I had tickets for Jersey Boys at the Curran. Our foursome enjoyed more than handshakes and hugs and still managed to be in our seats by curtain time. 

Our saving grace was the Cortez’s location&emdash;550 Geary St.&emdash;across the street from both theaters. We had an excellent dinner there, too, served by a staff dedicated to getting patrons to their theaters on time.

Two weeks later, my husband and I were finishing a leisurely dinner at Kuleto’s on Powell. We felt comfortable ordering dessert knowing that the theater for that night’s show was just around the corner. That was before Charles looked up from his strawberry shortcake and casually asked, You’ve got the tickets, don’t you?

No! My fork plopped into the crème brûle. I thought you had them.

Turned out, neither of us did. Our tickets were on the dresser back at the hotel. Once again, location saved the day&emdash;or evening. The Hotel Diva is around the corner from Kuleto’s and exactly across the street from the theater. We had plenty of time to retrieve the tickets and amble to our seats.

Although fine productions take place throughout the Bay Area, the city’s dynamic theater arts scene is dominated by four theaters: American Conservatory (formerly the Geary), Curran, Marines Memorial and Post Street, all located within three blocks of one another. Clustered around them are a variety of hotels and restaurants. The area sizzles with excitement and fun. Cheap it’s not, but just how many San Franciscos are there?

A must-see is the historic old Geary, now home to the American Conservatory Theater. The building, at 415 Geary St., opened nearly one hundred years ago and remains an outstanding example of theater design, philosophy and architecture in the early years of the 20th century. 

It’s fun to imagine Sarah Bernhardt emoting here, but that’s just for starters. In 1967, A.C.T. launched its first San Francisco season at the Geary. The company is recognized nationally for groundbreaking productions of classical works and bold explorations of contemporary playwriting. Famous alums include Annette Bening, Denzel Washington, Danny Glover and Winona Ryder.

Three doors down, the Curran Theatre is another golden oldie. When Homer Curran opened his theater on Sept. 11, 1922, the Jazz Age was in full swing. Curran dreamed of rivaling Broadway. Hollywood moguls proved he more than succeeded when they chose the Curran for New York theater scenes in the 1950 classic All About Eve.

The Post Street Theatre, at 450 Post St., is in another historic venue. In 1924, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks commissioned architect Anthony Heinsberger, creator of San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre, to build a palace. His 15-story Spanish Gothic design, built at a cost of $l.5 million, contained 100 rooms (now the Kensington Park Hotel) for resident and visiting Elks. The second floor assembly hall (now the theater) was designed with a maple stage, pipe organ and seating capacity for 1,000. The main floor today houses the fancifully designed seafood restaurant Farallon.

What’s Playing


American Conservatory Theater

415 Geary St. (415-749-2250; act-sf.org)
• Oct. 25–Nov. 25: The Rainmaker
• Dec. 5–23: A Christmas Carol
• Jan. 4–Feb. 3, 2008: Speed-the-Plow
 
Curran Theatre  
445 Geary St. (415-551-2050; shnsf.com)
• Scheduled for 2008: The Wiz

Marines Memorial Theatre
609 Sutter St. (415-771-6900; marinesmemorialtheatre.com)
• Nov. 6–Jan. 6, 2008: The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged) and Completely Hollywood (Abridged), in repertory

Post Street Theatre
450 Post St. (415-771-6900; poststreettheatre.com)
• Through Oct. 7: Blues in the Night

Where To Sleep

For location, it’s hard to beat the Hotel Diva, a sleek and sexy space across the street from both the Curran and A.C.T. theaters at 440 Geary St. (800-553-1900; hoteldiva.com). But then there’s also the lovely Kensington Park Hotel at 450 Post St. (800-553-1900; personalityhotels.com) that houses its own theater, the Post Street, plus the world-class restaurant Farallon. And these two charmers are only the beginning.
           
Adante Hotel&emdash;Clean and affordable, the Adante is short on frills but inexpensive enough to allow for an extra theater splurge. 610 Geary St. (888-423-0083; adantehotel.com)

Clift&emdash;The Clift blends old San Francisco elegance with contemporary energy and glamour. It’s also home to one of the city’s best-loved bars, the Redwood Room. 495 Geary St. (800-606-6090; morganshotelgroup.com)

Hotel Adagio&emdash;Built in 1929, the Hotel Adagio is a landmark Spanish Colonial Revival building in the heart of the theater district. Amenities include a complimentary state-of-the art fitness center. 550 Geary St. (800-228-8830; thehoteladagio.com)

Hotel Beresford&emdash;Offering Victorian elegance with a cozy, friendly feel, Hotel Beresford is well-located and surprisingly reasonable. 635 Sutter St. (800-533-6533; beresford.com)

Hotel Monaco&emdash;A true original: Besides complimentary morning coffee and evening wine, guests can opt for a tarot reading or a goldfish companion for their room. 501 Geary St. (415-292-0100; monaco-sf.com)

Hotel Union Square&emdash;This boutique hotel, with connections to celebrated detective novelist Dashiell Hammett and the city’s colorful speakeasy days, provides an authentic San Francisco experience: Guests wake up to the sounds of clanging cable cars. 114 Powell St. (800-553-1900; person
alityhotels.com)

The Inn at Union Square&emdash;This pricey away from the crowd, in the center of everything hotel has all you could ask for and then some. 440 Post St. (800-288-4346; unionsquare.com)

The Touchstone Hotel&emdash;A true hidden treasure, this tiny, 44-room hostelry, family-run for more than 50 years, offers a complimentary American breakfast and also houses the famous David’s Delicatessen. 480 Geary St. (800-620-5889; thetouchstone.com)

Warwick Regis Hotel&emdash;This elegant, well-located hotel has all the amenities. 490 Geary St. (800-203-3232; warwickhotels.com)

Where To Eat

Restaurants in the theater district fall into two categories: big, bustling, get me to the show on time eateries and intimate, elegant dining spots better attuned to post-matinee tête-à-têtes.     

The Cortez Restaurant & Bar is a perfect example of the former: a classic, high-energy bistro with an exciting menu and excellent service. 550 Geary St. Open nightly 5:30–10:30. (415-292-6360; cortezrestaurant.com)
 
Kuleto’s Italian Restaurant&emdash;A boisterous hot spot, where visitors and locals alike squeeze in to be part of the scene. 221 Powell St. Open Sunday–Thursday 11:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m., Friday–Saturday 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m. (415-397-7220; kuletos.com)

Morton’s, The Steakhouse&emdash;High-backed leather booths, dark-wood paneling and subdued lighting make for a warm, clubby atmosphere. The steaks are prime, the wine list varied and distinctive. 400 Post St. Open Monday–Saturday 5:30–11 p.m., Sunday 5–11 p.m. (415-986-5830; mor
tons.com)

John’s Grill&emdash;A quick stop but with atmosphere; framed sketches and sepia photographs of celebrities harken back to the restaurant’s 1908 opening. John’s is best-known for its connection to author Dashiell Hammett. (Sam Spade ate here in The Maltese Falcon.) 63 Ellis St. Dinner served nightly 5–10. (415-986-3274; johnsgrill.com)

Two for After the Show

For a super celebration, sometimes even a good theater night isn’t quite enough. That’s where a matinee kicks in, to be followed by an evening of truly classic dining. 

Dinner at Le Colonial is a trip to another time. Think twirling ceiling fans, lush tropical plantings and comfortable rattan furniture&emdash;the ambiance of colonial Vietnam in the 1920s. Diners select from a menu showcasing Vietnamese cuisine with a touch of ooh-la-la France. 20 Cosmo Place off Taylor between Post and Sutter. Open Sunday–Wednesday 5:30–10 p.m., Thursday–Saturday 5:30–11 p.m. The jungle lounge opens daily at 4:30 p.m. (415-931-3600; lecolonialsf.com)

Dinner at Farallon is a trip to an other world. Suspend belief. Step into a bar where kelp-twined pillars glow from within and luminous trailing tentacles drift down from above. Ascend a staircase embedded with thousands of indigo marbles. See nautilus lamps, giant sea urchin shell chandeliers and a kitchen range covered with fish scales. All of these details set the scene for coastal cuisine, an opulent array of fish from fresh and salt waters around the world. 450 Post St. Open Sunday 5–11 p.m., Monday–Thursday 5:30–10 p.m., Friday–Saturday
5:30–11 p.m. (415-956-6969; farallon
restaurant.com)

Four More Fun Things

Have breakfast&emdash;scrambled eggs with lox? blintzes anyone?&emdash;at the longest running show on theater row, David’s Delicatessen. 474 Geary St. Open daily 7 a.m.–midnight. (415-276-5950; davidsdelicatessen.com)

Enjoy a pastrami sandwich at Lefty O’Douls Restaurant & Lounge, the ultimate sports bar. 333 Geary St. Open daily 7 a.m.–2 a.m. (415-982-8900; leftyodouls.biz)

Do lunch at Cafe Claude, a cozy yet lively neighborhood meeting place tucked between skyscrapers. Gallic waiters, Parisian cafe-style food. Fun! 7 Claude Lane between Kearny and Grant at Bush. Open Monday–Saturday 11:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m., Sunday 5:30–10:30 p.m. (415-392-3505; cafeclaude.com)

Enjoy Unwind Hour at the Westin St. Francis with premier wines paired with fine hors d’oeuvres. Wines (and a wine expert) are provided by Icon Estates, 11 wineries representing the finest from California and around the world. Offered Tuesday–Saturday 5–7 p.m. in the tower lobby. On Union Square at 335 Powell St. (415-397-7000; westinstfrancis.com)

Radio Days&emdash;Before it turned into a theater showing plays, the Marines Memorial Theatre was the site of radio broadcasts by performers such as Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.