Chef Tyler Florence’s new lounge, the Sequoia, set above his celebrated Financial District eatery Wayfare Tavern, provides the San Francisco private cocktail club experience but without the exclusive (and expensive) membership that usually goes with it.
You need only find the secret street-level entrance (hint: Look for the understated plaque next to the restaurant) and ride the elevator to the fourth floor of the 1907 building to step into another era, where leopard-print carpets, custom game tables, and antique-silk-fringed lampshades recall a 1930s speakeasy vibe.
A vaulted skylight provides a striking first view of the city’s iconic TransAmerica Pyramid and skyline beyond, but the cocktail club‘s standout feature is its bank vault turned whiskey vault, a leftover from when Wells Fargo moved in following the 1906 earthquake that razed much of the city. Number 558 Sacramento was also destroyed but was rebuilt within the year using the bricks littering the street, and with a new addition—the bank’s temporary vault while the company rebuilt its branch next door.
Florence and interior designer Ken Fulk—already friends and both fans of a good story—decided that since they had inherited the vault, it was only right to celebrate it.
“We considered that if we were building a proper gentlemen’s bar, what’s the currency? In this place, the most valued currency isn’t cash or bullion—it’s whiskey,” says Fulk.
To lure in well-heeled aesthetes, Fulk added cognac-colored leather banquettes and painted the walls with malachite swirls inspired by vintage marbleized bookend papers; Florence stocked the bar with selections such as Whistle Pig 12-year Old World cask and Garrison Brothers Texas bourbon to keep them lingering.
Inspired by the building’s history, in the Sequoia’s other spaces Fulk included nods to its turn-of-the-century history and more overt references to the 1920s and 1930s: as Fulk says, keeping it “a little more Jazz Age and a little less Gold Rush”.
In the main lounge, custom-colored game tables and chess and backgammon boards evoke the banker’s green of a traditional brass-and-emeralite lamp, while tufted banquettes are direct references to an old-fashioned gentlemen’s club.
Throwback moments include holophane pendants hung from the skylight—purchased from London’s Battersea Antiques Fair dealer Drew Pritchard—and from a collection of vintage photographs sourced from an antiques store in Occidental, California, which may or may not show the top-secret Bohemian Grove, the elite summer retreat for members of San Francisco’s exclusive men-only Bohemian Club, which counts Mark Twain and every Republican president since Nixon among its members.
*House of Cards’*s recent episode eight of season five, in which Frank Underwood attends summer encampment among the redwoods, is inspired by the July bacchanal of this real-life arts club, when powerful men camp in the shadow of a 30-foot owl shrine within 2,700 acres of Monte Rio forest for two weeks of secret talks, music, theater, and heavy drinking. (Reports by infiltrators usually include a description of heads of state and industry urinating together openly on tree trunks.) While the club’s motto, “Weaving Spiders Come Not Here,” requires that business and political dealings are not discussed, the Grove is famously the setting for a 1942 Manhattan Project meeting prior to the development of the atomic bomb.
Florence and Fulk say that Bohemian Club wasn’t an explicit inspiration for the Sequoia’s design concept—they settled on the name because it conjured up rugged vistas of northern California, felt nostalgic and had a masculine lean to it, and was in keeping with the history and setting of the building. But they admit the idea of a treehouse or secret fort where you have to know the password to be pulled up through a trapdoor is central to the lounge’s look and feel.
“It all speaks to a certain childlike sense of fun that Tyler and I both still carry around, but in this case, we’re presenting it with a fine bar and a whiskey vault,” explains Fulk.
Open Wednesday through Friday, 5 P.M. to 11 P.M. 558 1/2 Sacramento Street, San Francisco, 415-772-9060; thesequoia.com
Stay tuned on Los Angeles Homes for more amazing articles. Don´t forget and leave your opinion on this article after your visit to Sequoia cocktail club.