Plans for the re-imagining of the Cliff House, which had been shrouded in secrecy until just recently, reveal some exciting details about the new vision for the iconic building.
We just learned last month that a new operator had been selected for the revamp of the Cliff House, and a 20-year lease has been signed with the National Park Service, which owns the property. That operator is called Sutro Lands End Partners, which is led by San Francisco attorney Alexander Leff.
Leff, a second-generation SF native, has expressed great love and nostalgia for the Cliff House space, and says that he recalls going there with his parents as a kid, and taking a date there while he was a student at Stanford. In a statement upon release of the news of the new lease, Leff said "it is an honor to be given the opportunity to restore this beloved landmark and doing so is my way of expressing my gratitude and lending a helping hand to our beautiful city at a moment when it can use help from all of us who live here."
Leff has partnered with Hi Neighbor Hospitality Group, the firm behind well-received restaurants Trestle, The Vault, and Mama in Oakland, to conceptualize the the revamp and curate the food and beverage selection, and we still have no idea what to expect there. The team is actively taking input from the community as well — in addition to upcoming public meetings, there is a website where you can submit your thoughts.
But, as the Chronicle reports today, we do know one thing: There will be variety.
Plans included in the 91-page lease document, obtained by the Chronicle, include reconfiguring the former restaurant's bar and kitchen and removing a mezzanine. A second-floor retail space will become a coffee shop, and "food and beverage and retail carts" will line the plaza and sidewalk outside the building along Point Lobos Avenue.
Other parts of the interior, including spaces that had housed offices, are going to become restaurant or retail space. And the overall concept sounds very similar to the Ferry Building — only likely here with just one anchor restaurant, and multiple smaller stalls and vendors.
Also, per the Chronicle via the lease document, "A patio will be spruced up with fire pits, heaters, windscreens, benches and video systems to 'encourage people to gather' outdoors."
SF chef Richie Nakano suggested in a widely-shared 2021 tweet that in revamping the Cliff House it probably "shouldn't be a restaurant" at all. Nakano suggested, "It should have a really good deli, a coffee place, an ice cream stand, maybe a raw bar," and he added, "For tourists its not great to be on the western edge of the city after dinner, and try getting someone that lives in the Mission to drive over there."
"A ferry building west would kill it there," Nakano said. And the Chronicle's history guy Peter Hartlaub seconded that suggestion.
That indeed sounds like the general direction the new team is going in — although a restaurant of some kind seems like it will be in the mix. And whether the place will get to call itself the Cliff House could be a matter of further negotiation. Former operators Mary and Dan Hountalas trademarked the name some years ago, and "are seeking payment in order to allow the building to continue to be called the Cliff House," according to Sutro Lands End Partners' statement.
Per the lease, we know that some food component needs to be open in the space by September 2024. Sutro Lands End Partners is paying zero rent for this first year, but escalating rent payments begin in year 2, along with sharing 4.5% of the operational revenue with the Park Service.
Projected annual revenues start at $18 million, once the place is fully up and running.
Stay tuned as we learn more, and as those public meetings get scheduled. But it sounds like they will want to have a plan in place and renovations in full swing by early next year.