Having celebrated its centennial in 2007, Cafe du Nord is a San Francisco institution, a subterranean haven for food, drink, and music located in the historic Swedish American Hall on upper Market Street a block above Church Street, its principal focus having bounced back and forth amongst the three for the last hundred years or so.
The end of the twentieth century saw Cafe du Nord firmly established as a nightclub, a very successful and well-regarded one, but a change in ownership a dozen years later preceded a major renovation and its reinvention as a bar and restaurant. A menu of traditional American dishes fairly typical of pub food is now served in the front bar as well as the Viking Room, a more intimate space in the rear where live music is still regularly featured, if not at quite the same volume as during the venue’s previous incarnation.
The change in emphasis at Cafe du Nord reflects the changing face of San Francisco. The large residential building that replaced the empty lot next door brought with it a new customer base, the younger, upwardly mobile foodie crowd that is filling up every nook and cranny in the city and the chic, minimal menu and the stylish interior design of the space, which reflects a historic motif more than the actual history of the bar, seem designed to cater to their tastes and sensibilities.
Open from 5 PM to 2 AM nightly, the new Cafe du Nord is still principally a nightspot, serving food until 1 AM and offering a midnight Happy Hour of sorts with champagne and oysters discounted fifty percent beginning at 12 AM. Standing just at the onset of the strip of bars and restaurants that constitute the eastern end of the Castro business district and competing with the Lower Haight for the patronage of the residents of the Duboce Triangle, Cafe du Nord provides a third alternative, helping to define the emerging identity of the neighborhood.
J. Eric Miller is a freelance writer with no expense account covering restaurants and bars in the most expensive city in the country. Well-heeled readers shouldn’t hesitate to take the liberty of buying him a drink. You think Hemingway did all that drinking on his own dime?