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This New Downtown San Francisco Club Recalls Vintage Jazz Era

Written by Omar MamoonPublished Sep. 14, 2023 • 5:30am
In the fourth episode of our food series PFG, food writer Omar Mamoon visits a cocktail bar from a bygone era. | Source: Video by Mike Kuba and Jesse Rogala

The recently reopened Dawn Club feels like a secret. That may be because back when the jazz club and cocktail bar first opened in the early 1930s, it was a speakeasy, tucked behind the kitchen of the posh Palace Hotel. 

Located Downtown off Market on Annie Street, which is really more of an alley, the club has preserved the Depression-era feel of the giant illuminated sign that reads “DANCING COCKTAILS ENTERTAINMENT." When you amble in on a recent evening, a host in a black suit asks if you have a reservation. “To a cocktail bar?” you think. You don't, but luckily, there are a couple of seats open at the bar. It feels like you’ve just won the lotto.

Guests enjoy drinks and live music from the jazz band at the Dawn Club in San Francisco. | Isaac Ceja/The Standard | Source: Isaac Ceja/The Standard

The Dawn Club isn’t just any old cocktail bar. Sure, there are cocktails. Excellent ones. (More on these later.) But as the sign says, there’s also dancing and entertainment, the latter by a nightly changing lineup of live musicians, which, combined with a couple of its spirit-forward cocktails, leads to the dancing.

This tribute to a disappeared era of San Francisco history is the latest from the Future Bars Group, the outfit behind 13 establishments throughout the Bay Area, including the speakeasy-style Bourbon & Branch, the fun Tiki bar Pagan Idol and Local Edition, an homage to an old press club located in the belly of the historic Hearst Building—all three in Downtown San Francisco.  

The original Dawn Club was a hub of the Great Revival, a San Francisco-centered movement of jazz musicians who sought to bring back the “hot jazz” pioneered by Black musicians in New Orleans that, by World War II, had all but disappeared amid the swing craze.

“The more we dug into the Dawn Club, we learned about the impact it had in the late '30s and early '40s in San Francisco and the wider jazz world,” said Future Bars CEO Brian Sheehy. “That’s been a delight to bring back.”

The club stayed open some 13 years until 1946, when it was forced to shut down due to unpaid taxes. More recently, the space, on the ground floor of the historical Monadnock Building, housed a now-defunct branch of Jeffrey’s Toys, which closed in 2015.

The new club features local musicians playing various jazz styles, including a house seven-piece ensemble called Fog City Swing that plays every Friday. Come for the music, which starts at 8 p.m. (tickets are $10-$20, and reservations are advised if you want a table near the stage), but stay for the cocktails. Future Bars Beverage Director Jayson Wilde created the drinks menu in collaboration with Dawn Club General Manager Engracio Clemena. It’s just what the doctor ordered after a long day at work.

Dawn Club is located in the heart of San Francisco, right off Market and Annie Streets, and boasts a wide variety of cocktails. | Source: Justin Katigbak/The Standard

The 20-some cocktails are divided into three sections: modern classics (house cocktails), classics (tried-and-true favorites) and low + no proof (for those who don’t drink alcohol yet still want to imbibe and vibe).

You get a small free drink as soon as you sit down, a sample to get your palate going, which is a nice touch. Tonight, it’s a refreshing Kir Royale, a champagne cocktail with red, sweet currant liqueur served in a mini flute.

As you flip through the menu feeling order anxiety, let me do the hard work for you: Do not skip the Hot Seven. It’s Wilde’s take on the Last Word, a shaken gin-based cocktail made with Green Chartreuse–a French herbal liqueur made by Carthusian monks–lime juice and Maraschino liqueur. Wilde subs Alpe Genepy liqueur for Chartreuse, which provides the same alpine notes but adds a floral, fruity aroma. Rye whiskey takes the place of gin, while a touch of agave binds it all together and a dash of pineapple juice lends tropical notes while adding a foamy texture when the concoction is shaken. It’s strained into a coupe glass with a shaving of nutmeg and an extra long lime twist as a garnish. 

The Hot Seven is a whiskey-based take on the classic cocktail the Last Word. | Source: Justin Katigbak/The Standard

The result drinks light and easy like a daiquiri, but it’s also a powerful whiskey drink. It “has a classic feel, but elevated,” as Wilde put it.

For those who prefer to drink their dessert, there is the Grasshopper. This classic, sweet and creamy green crème de menthe cocktail once associated with Midwestern supper clubs gets an update with the addition of espresso liqueur, a float of minty heavy cream and a shaving of Abuelita Mexican Chocolate. Wilder called it “the perfect closer.”

The Grasshopper is the Dawn Club's answer to guests seeking a sweeter cocktail to sip. | Source: Justin Katigbak/The Standard

The Wally Rose is another nice way to end the night. Named after the piano player in the Lu Watters’ Yerba Buena Jazz Band, the drink features walnut-infused bourbon stirred with bitter Averna and a little coffee liqueur–it’s served in a rocks glass and even comes with a side of walnuts to snack on.

Patrons enjoying the Wally Rose can also snack on walnuts alongside the walnut-infused bourbon used in the cocktail. | Source: Justin Katigbak/The Standard

Throw a couple of these back. Stay a little later than you should and order that extra cocktail that you definitely don’t need. Maybe you’ll regret it in the morning, but so what? That’s tomorrow. 

Dawn Club

🗓️ Mondays-Saturdays | 5 p.m.-2 a.m.
📍 10 Annie St., San Francisco

Omar Mamoon is a San Francisco-based writer & cookie dough professional. Find him at @ommmar.

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