Best New Restaurant and Bar Design in San Francisco in 2021
Remember last year when we were all looking at some cute take out? What a pleasure to finally set foot in the dining halls this year, as restaurants have opened and reopened across the city in 2021 and we were once again able to drink and dine in gorgeous interiors. Breaking the trend for neon signs and plants (not that there’s anything wrong with that), a few new restaurants stand out as a visual feast for the eyes.
From an illustrious Chinese banquet hall to a glam mid-century steakhouse, a Belle Époque grande dame to a retro-fabulous restaurant, step into the most amazing restaurant designs of the year in San Francisco.
The Empress by Boon
The historic Empress of China Banquet Hall in Chinatown was built in the 1960s, and the restaurant had long been known for its white tablecloths, emerald green, and ornate woodwork. But for the new Empress by Boon, design studio Atelier LLYS has renovated the space in ocean blues, leather cabins and modern glass partitions. Fortunately, they have retained a few original details, most notably the antique wooden pergola – a huge octagon with a skylight, imported from Taiwan.
Hilda and Jesse
Cool brunch pop-up Hilda and Jesse have found a permanent restaurant in North Beach, just off Washington Square. Designer Noz Nozawa didn’t hold back a wild, colorful, and loosely inspired renovation of a restaurant, with pastel pink and aqua blue walls, black and white checkerboard floors, red vinyl swivel chairs, a few cheeky murals. , grandmother and grandfather portraits and vintage finds of the chip.
Miller & Lux
Celebrity chef and TV personality Tyler Florence has opened a glamorous new steakhouse near the Chase Center, and it’s not a sports bar and grill. Miller & Lux is a generous 7,000 square feet, all furnished in a golden glow by renowned designer Ken Fulk. It’s Mid-Century style, but with luxurious touches, including large, circular, beige-leather canal-back cabanas and brass railings and light fixtures.
San Francisco’s modern upscale Filipino restaurant has certainly made an entrance inside the Kimpton Alton Hotel, where Abaca brings the party to the hotel lobby. A large, rectangular skylight floods the space with natural light, frilly ferns soften sharp edges, and white walls, pale woods, and canary-yellow banquettes keep out the sun, even in the fog of Fisherman’s Wharf.
San Ho just won
Corey Lee’s highly anticipated new Korean barbecue restaurant San Ho Won has successfully transformed an old sake sushi place into a bold, modern space. Architect Charles Hemminger (Trick Dog, Tartine, State Bird, Outerlands) oversaw a complete renovation, grounding the room with generous cabins, concrete floors, exposed brickwork, an ash bar, and paint charcoal grey. A large abstract fresco evokes mountain ranges, and a smoking tiger figure sits on menus and appears on matchboxes.
This one isn’t a new opening, but a beautiful reopening: Boulevard triumphantly returned this year with a glam refresh courtesy of designer Ken Fulk. The Belle Epoque dining room, with its sinuous tulip lamps and rich jewel tones, has regained its luster. Fulk didn’t hold back the patterns and textiles, with a peacock motif throughout, including royal blue and dark green velvets, silk patterns with feathers on chairs, black ostrich leather stools, and hand drawn birds perched on the walls.
Chef Nelson German’s Afro-Latino cocktail bar is electric. Lots of bars love neon lights and plants these days, but Sobre Mesa started the trend and arguably did it first and best, with a truly immersive look and feel: jungle green walls, a bar in black marble and beige leather banquets under the glow of low lights.
While it might not be the flashiest restaurant opening this year, Mr. Digby’s has established itself as Noe Valley’s favorite neighborhood bar, and it has a beautiful design, courtesy of the ROY Group (Riddler, Elda, Wildseed). The tavern has dressed up on the outside with a crisp black and white exterior, and settles inside with plaid wallpaper, tufted leather bar stools, a navy blue leather bench seat and saddle and a strange canine portrait.
North Beach’s colorful new tapas bar takes advantage of its location around the corner and spans both sidewalks like a colorful, European-inspired cafe. Nicholas Roberto of Auspice Design (Causwells, True Laurel) took inspiration from Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill, and Red Window is bright with purple, orange, and pink hues, and detailed with flowers, birds, masked figures and lips in Art Nouveau style.
At upscale Ettan California-Indian in Palo Alto, restaurateur Ayesha Thapar worked closely with designer Thomas Schoos to reinvent the space, two uplifting floors illuminated by a central skylight. Schoos took over with hanging plants and chandeliers; patterned wallpaper, textiles and woodwork; and modern art and black and white portraits.