I don’t visit touristy Chinatown in San Francisco very often, but once in a while I like to go there on an afternoon and explore, preferably on a rainy day when the streets are wet and fewer people are out. One of my favorite rest stops is the bar at the Empress of China, especially for Happy Hour, which offers half-priced appetizers and cocktails daily from 3:00pm – 6:00pm.
The Empress of China opened in 1967 in a modern office building designed by the architectural firm of John Carden Campbell and Worley K. Wong and built on a hill so the restaurant and bar have sweeping views of Chinatown, North Beach, and Telegraph Hill from its large plate-glass windows. While waiting for the elevator that takes you from the lobby to the bar take a look at the many photos of celebrities who have dined there in the restaurant’s heyday of the 1960s and 1970s.
As you can see the bar has a very nice 60s feel to it, and with the views it’s a wonderful place to relax over a $5 Mai Tai (albeit a sweet pineapple 1970s version) during Happy Hour. The restaurant itself has a very different look, though an amazing one. Interiors are reproductions of the styles of decorating that was popular during the Han Dynasty of around 200 B.C.
Not much has changed since this vintage postcard photo was taken. Only the furniture is different. You can this one and other rooms in the photo gallery on the restaurant’s web site. Since I have not dined there in many years I can’t offer a review of the food. I know it’s fairly expensive, but probably worth it for the atmosphere and views, especially at night. Give this place a chance for dinner sometime because it’s almost a miracle that a place like this has survived so long in a city like San Francisco that has so much creative and inexpensive Asian food.
Empress of China
838 Grant Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94108
Open for lunch M-F 11:30am-3pm, dinner M-F 5pm-10pm, Sat & Sun 11:30am-10pm
Bar open 3pm-10pm, Happy Hour daily 3pm-10pm