Bouncer Critiques the Hilton's Urban Tavern

No one seems to be watching The World According to Paris, so I have had to take up the slack on my lonesome. The premise of the most recent reality show based on the life of heiress Paris Hilton is her day-to-day existence in Los Angeles. She has to keep reinventing herself in order to remain “hot,” to use her parlance. Presumably, these days she is a businesswoman first — one whose brand is nothing other than her physical manifestation on Earth: blond, rich, exclusive, and pouty. Being the oppositional-defiant journo that I am, I would really like to exalt her with neofeminist theory, but she had to go and say on the show that only “ugly girls” give blow jobs, and that knocked the wind out of my Conair hairdryer. Sadly, she really is a complete and total tool.

Despite Paris Hilton's fame, it is fair to say that no one looks at the Hilton Hotel chain and immediately thinks of her, which is a good thing for the Hilton Hotel chain. Actually I never make the connection unless I am at a Hilton (usually in the bar, which is the only part of it I can afford) and something goes terribly wrong, or appears cheap, or seems cookie-cutter. Then and only then will I say to myself, “Wow, Paris is a stupid, selfish twit who is comparable in depth to the faux-luxury of the chain that bears her surname.” It's ironic, really, because technically she comes from old money, at least by American standards, and is not nouveau riche, though she certainly seems to fit the mold.

Most of the time I forget the association between the two. Like the other day, when I went to the Urban Tavern, which is a gastropub attached to the Hilton on O'Farrell. I wandered in without giving Paris a thought, at least initially.

Bars really like to sift through monikers in this town. One day “saloon” is the appellation de rigueur. Next it's “lounge,” then “bar” in front of the name, not at the end, as in Bar Agricole. Then it's “gastropub,” and now it's “tavern.” I suppose it is fitting for such a liberal city — we tend to try and reinvent attitudes and auras by changing the lexicon. At the end of the day, they are all the goddamn same: bars.

The Urban Tavern has a lot going for it. Firstly, there is the design of the space, which is contemporary and warm, despite its sleekness and trendy use of mixed materials. A Deborah Butterfield horse sculpture made from reclaimed metal stands prominently between the bar area and the dinner seating. I first noticed her work when I was walking through the Sea Cliff neighborhood and saw one of her horses made from driftwood in the courtyard of some very rich person. I got a certain twinge of excitement when I realized that the same artist had made the sculpture at the Tavern (not a twinge of excitement because of witnessing great art, but more that I might actually recognize an artist besides Margaret Keane). The Urban Tavern really plays up the acquisition, splashing it all over its website as well as the window boxes outside the hotel that advertise the pub. All of this led to me thinking about Paris Hilton, which, as I said, means that the place was doing something wrong. If you have class, you don't need to flaunt it.

My friend and I walked in and stood there. Then a waiter came over and told us to take any table that we wanted, so we headed toward two empty tables at the banquette on the right. Both were dirty, and no one seemed to be following us to give us menus or wipe them down, so I grabbed a napkin from another table and did a cursory swipe.

We sat there for a while and no one came over, so I grabbed a pub menu from another table. Finally a waiter came over with a friendly hello, and we ordered some finger food and looked at the drink selections (I know, usually it is the other way round, but we were hungry). The beer selection at this place is pretty spot-on, with staples like Full Sail and Sierra Nevada, but also inspired additions like Pliny the Elder IPA, Scrimshaw Pilsner, and local beers like 21st Amendment's Back in Black. I'm not sure about the inclusion of PBR, though, unless Urban Tavern is trying to attract broke hipsters (unlikely) or appease people from Iowa (perhaps).

My friend and I didn't feel much like talking, so we sat side by side and just looked at people. Across from us was one long table made from a big tree trunk. It was populated with Brits who were probably staying at the hotel. Actually, it is safe to say that the only people who visit the Urban Tavern are from out of town; this is not a local destination, nor will it ever be.

The food came and was laid out before us on many little plates like a diorama of a small town. We dived in like Godzilla. We stayed for quite a while, watching people come and go and trying to guess where they were from. A couple in matching Harley-Davidson outfits seemed to be the only Americans, though neither of them said a word to each other, so I can't be sure. They did seem to view the rest of us with marked suspicion, so perhaps they were Canadian. Germans are perhaps the easiest to recognize — the men's jeans are invariably up their buttcracks and the women have nicely shaped arms. It's very scientific that way.

When all was said and done and the bill was paid, we left happy enough, but weren't interested in a repeat visit. That is, until the bar changes its name to Urban Canteen, which will probably be the next manifestation of S.F. nomenclature. Like Paris Hilton, the bar is just pedestrian enough that it will need to keep reinventing itself to hold anyone's attention.

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