House of Prime Rib is a unique restaurant that holds a special place in the hearts of San Franciscans. But it’s not just the giant, orange-rimmed plates of perfectly rosy-pink meat; it’s the entire experience. From the giddiness you get at the mere sight of the red awning to the moment you step inside the beautifully buzzing dining room, you’re here for one reason, and one reason only: to have a good time. House of Prime Rib is the ultimate celebratory restaurant for us San Franciscans.
We go to HOPR when there’s a promotion. We go to HOPR when there’s a friend in town. We go to HOPR when there’s a birthday. We go to HOPR when there’s a birth.
We never go to House of Prime alone — we go with our friends and loved ones, the ones we want to experience joy with, the ones we want to toast. And when each of the dozens of tables does this together, it creates a vibe unlike any other in the city. There’s just something about an extra boozy, extra dirty martini paired with a giant slab of salty meat that feels like such a treat.
But as the pandemic continues to take its toll with no plan or roadmap for restaurants reopening to indoor dining, I worry. I worry for House of Prime Rib. Will it make it to the other side?
“There’s no question about it,” Joe Betz reassured me over the phone in his gentle German accent. “We’ll reopen, and we’ll be back.”
But when? November and December are my favorite months to visit, when the cold San Francisco air seeps through the thickest of trench coats; it makes opening those brass-studded, golden-hued doors and stepping into the warmth of the gently glowing dining room that much more rewarding. The dining room is like a a 19th-century living room in an English manor during Christmas. I can’t stand the thought of not visiting HOPR during the holidays.
Outdoor seating isn’t an option, either; Van Ness doesn’t exactly make for the best patio. And even when restaurants do eventually open up for indoor dining with minimal capacity, there’ll undoubtedly be social distancing protocols and lowered capacities. What will the dining room be like not completely packed? Will it be the same?
“We prepared ourselves for the opening,” Joe says. “We have plastic dividers between all the booths. Everything will be six feet apart. We’ll still create an atmosphere by decorating the tables with flower arrangements and display bottles of wine and some carafes.”
But I can’t imagine.
I can’t imagine a not-packed dining room.
I can’t imagine not having to raise my voice for my dining companions to hear me.
I can’t imagine watching a salad spinning from six feet away.
I can’t imagine my tall-toqued carver slicing meat so far away. Come closer I need to get that ‘Gram!
But as Joe says, “The customer’s health and the employee’s health is very important.”
And the new norm is just how it’s going to have to be. It’s the reality. Indoor dining will reopen eventually, social distance will decrease to where we can hug each other once again, and the pandemic will pass. And I can’t wait until that moment.
Until then, I’ll wait patiently and settle for meat dreams in lieu of meat sweats.
House of Prime Rib: 1906 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco. www.houseofprimerib.net
Omar Mamoon is a San Francisco writer and cookie guy. Instagram: @ommmar.