Bix, The Best Of San Francisco’s Dress-Up Nights

Photo of JoAnneh Nagler
24 November 2016

Discover this secretive, 1940s-style supper club that offers one of the classiest and most romantic nights to be found in San Francisco, from dining to dancing.

Bix Restaurant | Courtesy Bix

Just last week I turned to my creative, artsy, film-history-professor husband and said, ‘Where in San Francisco can we dress up and go for elegant? Not hip, that’s everywhere. I mean upscale, graceful and really dressed.’

‘You don’t think we’re elegant when we go out?’ he said plaintively. He knew where I was leading him.

We had just re-watched (for probably the 20th time) the incredibly romantic film An Affair to Remember. Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr meet on a ship and saunter into the dining room every night in a Tux and full-length gown, and this time, noting every detail Ms. Kerr’s exquisite dresses, I was longing for that exquisiteness.

After one extended dinner scene in the film, I sighed and said, ‘No one dresses up like that anymore. I wish…’ And as I trailed off my husband kissed my forehead and said, ‘I know, honey. You’d love to dress for dinner like that every night. Let’s see what we can find.’

I knew I didn’t want stodgy, stuffy or old world. I wanted someplace darkly romantic for us where the vibe allowed for everything from upscale casual to decked out.

Enter Bix, the hidden-away, 1940s-style supper club that hosted our dress-up date night with grace and style. Renting a tux for the night was too pricey for a drink date, but I knew that my husband’s best suit would certainly do. I rifled through my collection of evening wear and pulled out a red chiffon floor-length halter with trailing raw-edged flounces that I had bought in Buenos Aires a few years ago. Yes, I thought. This is what I’m after.

Courtesy Bix

Come Saturday evening we headed to 56 Gold Street, a tiny alley between Sansome and Montgomery in the Jackson Square neighborhood. Bix is definitely a destination spot, meaning just like the ultra-understated bars of Los Angeles in the 2000s which were hidden away with barely a nameplate, you’ve got to know it’s there to find the place.

There’s a brick façade with a single door entering off the alley, and a quick Speakeasy vibe about the barely-there lighting. It feels like a secret, a hush-hush place for a perfect lovers’ tryst, stylish and graceful and clandestine all at once. Enter, and the place is supper club designed, pure 1930s and 1940s, with a giant mural over the broad bar, and a regal staircase right out of a historical movie set leading to the upper half of the dining room. The ceiling is high, the faux-window treatment is covered with wooden blinds, the room paneled in dark wood with silver accents.

We checked our coats and headed to the bar. Already I felt like I was floating. I realized in an instant that we were looking to stop time, to fall into each other’s arms outside of everything daily, and that this was just the place.

Each Saturday evening there’s a perfect piano player named Michael Lipskin, playing Scott Joplin-inspired pieces with perfect ease. (Chat him up, and you’ll find he’s played with an amazing array of the amazing jazz greats.) A little while later, the house trio arrives, playing standards and jazz cuts from an era that truly knew how to swing and romance the soul. Bradley, who has been at Bix since the place opened, served us deliciously dry gin martinis, and my gallant husband offered me his hand for the dance floor.

The cool trio (stand-up bass, keys and drums) played as we danced, just steps away from us with their instruments. The place is close-in, and we moved in a small space just near the band with diners just an arms’ length away, and the intimacy of our swaying so near them only added to the appeal.

Courtesy Bix

Being held in that divine, swooning way, was just what I was after. Romance is a slow thing, it can’t be rushed or pressed by time. It wakes from the physical first, the delicate tendrils of desire building with our bodies pressed near, then lulls the heart and spirit into the sweetest of feelings: tenderness. Romance is about stopping time, unwinding the urgency of to-do’s and the angst about the future, and just being present to the joy of being in love right now. There aren’t many places I can think of that induce such a swoon, but Bix does.

Bix is not formal, but it is elegant. It allows for romance, for the dark and lush moments of intimacy, the evocative press of closeness on the body and soul.

Yes, there are terrific, locally accessed and delicious dishes for dinner here, and even a fruit-only gelato that will melt away all troubles. Certainly the Friday night scene is much more an after-business-hours crowd. But a Saturday evening dress-up date at Bix is rich with ardor.

It’s the romance that we came for and Bix delivered, the stepping out of time into a sweet dream of life as a love affair, a deep and passionate thing that, dressed in our best, would swell up in our hearts and make us feel special, on this night, in these clothes, in this city.

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