If you’re in the general area of Union Square on a Friday and looking to ease into the weekend, allow me to recommend a trip to Stookey’s Club Moderne followed by some cheap pho.
The dark bar inside Stookey’s Club looks like it was plucked right from the height of Art Deco, with its sleek, red, porthole swinging door and the giant glowing neon “cocktails” sign. The long bar is pocked with swiveling stools, hedging in lab-coated bartenders surrounded by chrome and rows of glass bottles. It’s the perfect dichotomy of class and grunge, similar to a dive in its size and attitude but elevated by meticulously crafted cocktails and cleanliness.
After a couple Corpse Revivers, it’s time to hit the streets and indulge in one of the cheapest bowls of pho in San Francisco.
Right down the block from Club Moderne, tucked in an alley, is Le Colonial, an old French/Vietnamese restaurant with locations in New York City, Chicago, and Houston. After decades of being revered, the San Francisco location has lost a little of its wonderment, even though the hidden space remains intriguing.
San Francisco Chronicle food critic Soleil Ho recently thoughtfully dissected the restaurant, fairly noting that the restaurant romanticizes a time and place only really romantic for white folks. More enlightened and politically-conscious generations of diners may find the dated concept ill-suited for today’s culinary climate, and the abundance of authentic, and frankly better, Vietnamese food around the Bay makes Le Colonial less and less of a destination.
All that said, on Fridays you can get a $5 bowl of pho.
On the corner of Sutter and Taylor streets, up a small flight of tile steps, is the back door of Le Colonial, which doubles as the entrance to 721 Lounge, the restaurant’s casual drinking and dining area. On Pho Friday, you can build your own bowl of hot tasty soup. Just approach the bar and drop a crisp Lincoln and you’re good to go. Don’t skimp on a $6 Saigon Export to wash it down.
A soup station is set up like a buffet, with stacks of bowls and platters of fresh herbs. The classic Northern Vietnam-style pho ga is filled with tender shredded chicken and flat wide rice noodles. Once the steaming foundation is set within the bowl, all the fixings can be sprinkled in as desired. Lime, fresh cilantro, jalapeño, scallion, and bean sprouts are sprawled along the tables, tossing green aromas into the air. There is a guilty pleasure that comes with building your own bowl of soup in a back bar of what is otherwise considered a full service dining restaurant. The soup’s clear broth is tasty and clean but sweeter than I prefer, with distant notes of cinnamon and coriander, but for the most part is hearty, soul warming, and absolutely ideal after a long day of meetings and a couple cocktails.
Around me the lounge starts to fill up with the hobnobbing elite, They mingle and order their evening’s first round of libations as I slurp my last few sips of chicken broth. There is so much delicious Vietnamese food in this city, like, so, so much. But there are not many places that you can stroll out of with a belly full of five dollar soup, a light buzz and the whole weekend ahead of you.
Le Colonial, 721 Lounge
721 Sutter St,
San Francisco, CA 94109