The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus

When I was asked to write about my happenings “about town,” naturally, I had to begin with my favorite San Francisco daytime haunt, the Rotunda at Neiman Marcus in San Francisco, and how much I have missed hosting or attending luncheons with friends, and my leisurely days hanging out with my pals at my usual table in the lounge during the closure mandated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

I’ve been a daily fixture at Ro, (er … the Rotunda) for nearly two decades. “Ro” is a nickname born of laziness from the early days of me texting on a T9 keypad of my Motorola flip phone—pre-Blackberry. Luckily, the iPhone was on the way. Hey, it was the late ’90s. I was dubbed “The Mayor of the Rotunda,” a phrase first coined by former Neiman Marcus GM, John Cappese, and it stuck. For the love of God, one of my closest and oldest friends, Sonya Molodetskaya, to this day still has me listed as “The Mayor of the Rotunda” in her cellphone.

For me, the perspective of lunching at Ro differs from that of the average or special occasion diner, as the Rotunda and Neiman Marcus were my daily haunt for more years than I wish to confess. The staff grew to be like family over the years and have helped me facilitate many a momentous occasion. Boy, I’ve hosted some over-the-top events!

Under the Rotunda’s dome inlaid in the stained glass ‘rotunda,’ lies the Latin phrase ‘fluctuat nec mergitur,‘ meaning ‘tossed by the waves but never sunk.'”

After over a year of closure due to COVID, rumors spread through social media of the Rotunda closing permanently, but the rumor was only that—a rumor. On the contrary, Neiman Marcus’ Rotunda was eager to reopen when safe to do so—and to reopen better than ever. Under the Rotunda’s dome, inlaid in the stained glass “rotunda,” lies the Latin phrase “fluctuat nec mergitur,” meaning “tossed by the waves but never sunk.” The motto is traced back to at least 1358 and was used by the city of Paris, France, hence its use by The City of Paris department store, San Francisco’s premiere luxury retailer from 1911 until its closure in 1977 (where Neiman Marcus now stands). The phrase that couldn’t be more meaningful today.

Alas, the Rotunda has survived the stormy waves, and we loyalists and shoppers alike are delighted to celebrate Ro’s grand reopening on June 15! Guests will be happy to know that the Rotunda’s doors reopen to a fresh, new start with a new executive chef, restaurant manager, and beautifully remodeled dining room, along with some other new and exciting changes in-store, including a new vice president and general manager, the marvelous Mark Sullivan!

SF Gossip

Mark and his executive team (and my pals), assistant manager Theresa Spirz, senior group manager Shannon Nicols, and brand experience manager Ali Shahbazi, are also excited to announce the addition of the new, luxuriously renovated Penthouse on 5, a chic space located on the fifth floor of the former home furnishings department (and where I hosted my Kaiseki Bloom birthday luncheon back in 2019).

Aubrey Brewster’s Purely Paradise Birthday Luncheon at Neiman Marcus
(Photo – Devlin Shand for Drew Altizer Photography)

This cool and fashionable spot is perfect for intimate VIP events, including elevated spa events and private beauty masterclasses with your favorite brands. The sunny and welcoming space overlooking Geary Street can be easily custom-furnished and will be available to top VIP clients for intimate gatherings, with catering provided by the beloved Rotunda restaurant on the floor below.

Alas, the Rotunda has survived the stormy waves, and we loyalists and shoppers alike were delighted to celebrate Ro’s grand reopening on June 15! Guests will be happy to know that the Rotunda’s doors reopened to a fresh, new start with a new executive chef, restaurant manager, and beautifully remodeled dining room, along with some other new and exciting changes in-store, including a new vice president and general manager, the marvelous Mark Sullivan!

Aubrey Brewster (Photo – Devlin Shand for Drew Altizer Photography)

Mark and his executive team (and my pals), assistant manager Theresa Spirz, senior group manager Shannon Nicols, and brand experience manager Ali Shahbazi, are also excited to announce the addition of the new, luxuriously renovated Penthouse on 5, a chic space located on the fifth floor of the former home furnishings department (and where I hosted my Kaiseki Bloom birthday luncheon back in 2019).

This cool and fashionable spot is perfect for intimate VIP events, including elevated spa events and private beauty masterclasses with your favorite brands. The sunny and welcoming space overlooking Geary Street can be easily custom-furnished and will be available to top VIP clients for intimate gatherings, with catering provided by the beloved Rotunda restaurant on the floor below.

A native of the United Kingdom, Mark is a graduate of the University of London. His career began at Harrods of Knightsbridge where he developed a love for fine dining and the beautifully accessorized dining table. In 1992, he joined Nuance Global Traders as general manager and undertook assignments in Gatwick Airport, London; Charles de Gaulle, Paris; and Hong Kong International Airport. In 2000, he joined DFS, a travel retail distribution channel of the luxury goods LVMH Group. Recruited as the general manager for the DFS Galleria in Union Square, San Francisco, he undertook assignments at San Francisco and San Jose International Airports, the DFS Galleria in Saipan, and Tumon Bay Galleria in Guam before moving to the DFS corporate headquarters in Hong Kong as the global vice president for human resources. Prior to leaving in 2019, Mark was the managing director for DFS North America and sat on the Visit California and SF Travel Board of Directors to promote tourism.

Sakuta Arch Bridge to Aubrey’s Kaiseki Bloom Birthday Luncheon 2019 at Penthouse on 5 at Neiman Marcus (Photo – Devlin Shand for Drew Altizer Photography)

No stranger to the Bay Area and before joining the Neiman Marcus Group as vice president and market general manager for Northern California, Mark was the vice president and general manager for Bloomingdale’s Valley Fair in San Jose. Mark became a US citizen in November 2019. He married the love of his life, Andy Tidwell, in 2002, and together they have three children. Grace is 14, a freshman in high school, and the twins, Sophia and Tyler (12 years), are in seventh grade. Willow, the family’s 17-month-old labradoodle lovingly rules the house. Much like me, Mark loves to cook and entertain, and he supports the performing arts. Mark enjoys passing down his passion for cooking with his kids, and their favorite pastime at home is cooking together.

Brief History of the Rotunda

Back in the early 1980s, the glass rotunda was dismantled, piece-by-piece, and shipped to Boston, where it underwent extensive restoration. It was then installed about 75 feet from its original position near the building’s core for Neiman’s grand opening in November 1982.

Most of Neiman Marcus’ restaurants are named “Mariposa,” Spanish for butterfly (the logo of NM), or “Zodiac.” Originally, the Rotunda was to be named Zodiac; however, at the time, the infamous Zodiac Killer was terrorizing San Francisco; so, for obvious reasons, the name “Rotunda” was selected.

The food: A well-traveled gentleman, store founder, and self-proclaimed gourmand, Stanley Marcus’ passion for food and fashion ultimately played a role in his decision to be the very first retailer to merge both. He knew the importance of creating an elegant space where fashionable ladies could spend the afternoon taking in fashion shows, shopping, and lunching. The socialites of Dallas quickly took to the concept, and the “Ladies Who Lunch” was born.

American culinary icon and chef, the late Helen Corbitt, a NYC-born Dallas transplant, is considered the mother of New American continental cuisine and the creator of the Neiman Marcus menu. Though the menu has undergone transformations to reflect the times and locales, Corbitt’s classics can still be found on the menus today. Upon being seated for lunch, guests are greeted with an amuse-bouche of hot chicken consommé, a NM tradition Corbitt began in 1953. Menu classics include the famed (and most popular) lobster club, the classic chicken salad (now called the NM chicken salad)—secret, and not on the menu: I will order the chicken salad as a club sandwich, omitting the lobster—the famous popovers and strawberry butter, and, of course, the infamous NM chocolate chip cookies, cookies so delightful that an urban myth was born!

As the story goes, after enjoying one of the famed cookies, a lady asked the server for the recipe. The server was more than happy to accommodate her wishes (as NM does). Upon the delivery of her check, and to her dismay, she is said to have discovered that she was charged $250 for the coveted recipe, and a legend was born! Though, an amusing tale, Neiman Marcus has never charged for the recipe and is more than happy to share it. The recipe is available from the Rotunda’s host or free to download on their website.

Today, Kevin Garvin, NM’s vice president of corporate food services, continues to interpret Corbitt’s vision of luxury dining with the classics and new innovative menu items. In celebration of some of NM’s classics, they have now made them available on their new “take it to go now” menu. You can take home the famed popovers and chocolate chip cookies by the half dozen and the NM chicken salad and consommé (chicken broth) by the pint.

One could usually find me ordering my regular selections of fried lobster spring rolls (an homage to San Francisco’s illustrious Chinese culture and, luckily, back on the menu) and the sustainably-grown California Tsar Nicoulai caviar with a side of potato chips and crème fraîche (ask for the “Aubrey” way), and, of course, the burger!

Besides the picturesque and historic room, the classic menu, and the happenings at the bar, it’s really about the guests. You never know whom you’ll run into. From the fashionable society fête, the special occasion diner whose holiday and birthday lunches are “tradition,” afternoon tea (don’t ever call it “high tea,” a faux pas) with Mom, or “the girls,” bridal-to-baby showers, first-time tourist, businessperson, to the colorful cast of regulars, the diversity of Rotunda’s clientele represents all that is San Francisco. And the warm staff is always welcoming and pleased to see you.

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