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Union Square's famed Starlight Room rebranded to reflect alleged royal affair

The Starlight Room, the classy lounge atop the historic Sir Francis Drake Hotel in Union Square, has been rebranded, with a new name and a new look.

It's now known as Lizzie's Starlight, to reflect "the alleged affair between Sir Francis Drake and Queen Elizabeth I,” according to publicist Sarah Siler with LGPR, Inc.

Located on the hotel's 21st floor, the Starlight Room (formerly known as the Starlight Roof) has been a happening nightspot for decades. Known for its 360-degree city views, the bar recently bore the name of local showman Harry Denton, who oversaw entertainment like the weekly "Sunday's a Drag" brunch. 

But the space, whose last facelift was in 2011, ultimately "wasn't able to compete with the tech-forward, changing palate of well-versed locals and travel guests," LGPR spokesperson Tory Weiss said.

The hotel's owner, the Pebblebrook Hotel Trust, and its operator, Kimpton, decided they wanted to create "a multifunctional space," said Linh Thanh Pham, the hotel's food and beverage director.

The new space is lighter and brighter, with raised ceilings and extended windows to offer more city views. A new dance floor can accommodate live music and DJs, but Denton is no longer involved with entertainment programming. ("Sunday's a Drag" will continue to be held in the hotel's ballrooms, potentially moving to other spaces outside the top floor as needed.) 

The Starlight Room's ceilings were lifted and new windows by the new dance floor can provide broader city views

The revamp of the Starlight Room is part of an $16.5 million makeover for the entire Sir Francis Drake Hotel, built in 1928 and named for the 16th-century English explorer famous for nearly discovering San Francisco Bay.

The hotel underwent its first major renovation in the 1970s, and again in 1993, shortly after it was purchased by Kimpton Hotels for $22 million. Pebblebrook acquired it for $90 million in 2010, retaining Kimpton to manage it. Now, the lobby, all the rooms, and the Starlight Room have once again been updated. 

As part of the renovation, designers Dawson Design Associates stripped back the bar’s facade to expose the original architecture, which served as an influence for the renovation. A patch of the original 1920s brickwork remains exposed, as "a salute to the iconic history of The Starlight Room," Weiss said. 

One patch of the original 1928 brickwork remains exposed in the renovated lounge.

The seating and lighting in Lizzie's Starlight have also been updated, and the new sound system can interact with light fixtures and screens throughout the bar. Retractable walls make the space flexible for parties, allowing the bar to accommodate multiple events in a single evening, according to LGPR.

The historic Starlight Room sign outside the hotel's entrance, which has already been modified to remove any mention of Denton, will be removed and replaced to reflect the new name, Weiss said. 

The Starlight Room sign outside the Sir Francis Drake will be removed and replaced. | Photo: Andrew D./Yelp

The choice to rename the bar after Queen Elizabeth I takes a bit of historical license. While there's some evidence that the queen had several suitors in her time, there is nothing directly suggesting she had an affair with Drake, who conducted most of his conquests during her reign.

“We know for sure that Elizabeth carried on very public flirtations and was very possessive with the men close to her," Weiss said. "Drake was close to her. He was one of her favorites."

Ultimately, though, "we can only speculate” as to the true extent of their relationship, she added.

Nonetheless, visitors will find a large rendition of the Queen at the entrance by artist Ryan Burke, and an underlit sculptural wall inspired by Her Majesty’s neck collar

A new wraparound granite bar winds through the center of the lounge.

Chef Justin Deering has introduced a new menu of luxurious offerings, including cannoli filled with whipped crème fraiche and caviar, and housemade seafood sausage served lobster roll-style on a brioche bun with summer pepper relish. Pastry chef Kimberly Bugler's desserts include a candied apple filled with apple butter mousse and lemon-apple compote, then covered in a white chocolate shell. 

Those with royal appetites can opt for the "Spoil Me" section of the menu, which includes one of everything. 

The "Spoil Me" menu option: one of everything. | Photo: Aubrie Pick/ Courtesy of LGPR

The cocktail menu was a collaboration between Pham, Travis Briere (the lead bartender at the hotel's restaurant, Scala's Bistro, and its other bar, Bar Drake), and Mike Ryan, the director of bar programs for Kimpton Hotels.

Drink offerings include The New Albion, which pays homage to Drake’s landing at Point Reyes and features bourbon, honey, lemon and a few drops of absinthe, and the Cable Car, with house-made spiced rum. There's also an extensive wine and champagne list available. 

Cocktails are served in vintage-style barware. | Photo: courtesy of LGPR

Lizzie’s Starlight had its grand opening this past Friday, October 11. Hours will be Wednesday and Thursday from 5 p.m.-midnight, Friday and Saturday from 2 p.m.-2 a.m., and Sunday from 1-8 p.m. 

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