Ten years before Matthew Weiner pushed Don Draper out of his Madison Avenue office to come crashing down on our screens, David Fincher pushed Michael Douglas off an office block in San Francisco. Douglas crashed through the Art Deco glass roof of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco and landed in what is now its Garden Court restaurant.
Destruction and reconstruction – and the wealth of the city – have been a recurring part of the hotel’s 140-year history. It was the world’s largest hotel when it opened in 1875, acquiring a lofty reputation straight away by the innovation of giving many of the rooms their own private bath. It wasn’t the 1906 earthquake that destroyed the original building but the fires that razed the city straight after.
As tastes change, so has the structure of the building. The restaurant that Michael Douglas landed in was originally the turning circle for horse drawn carriages. But while tastes do change, the Palace has worked hard to keep some things the same. You can still post your mail down the polished bronze chute on each floor, to be picked up in the marble clad lobby later that evening, 6 times a week by the postie on his rounds.
And there’s the Pied Piper bar. The name isn’t a reference to the start-up in the recent fictional sitcom, Silicon Valley, but the early 20th Century painting by Maxfield Parrish which spans the backwall of the bar. It was removed by the owners to be auctioned a few years ago, only for the locals to get the Mayor involved and insist it be brought back. The locals have stayed loyal and it’s them, rather than trendies or tourists, that you’ll find in the bar in the evening – or in the approximately 50 covers wood-panelled restaurant behind it.
Today, the Palace Hotel is very Instagram-ready, in a decidedly pre-Insta style. The vaulted stained-glass ceiling of the Garden Court, supported by Italian marble columns, holds 20 Austrian crystal chandeliers, originals from the hotel’s opening. Each Christmas, a decorated tree reaches up to the stained glass roof and the whole space has now been designated a San Francisco Landmark.
There’s also a health club, with a swmming pool where you can you can maintain the classic theme by doing your lengths in Old English backstroke style to take in the glass domed, sky lit ceiling.
The most recent renovation started in 1989 when the Palace closed for a two-year, $170M renovation. Three years ago, there was a major refurbishment, with redecoration and new carpets, bringing in some contemporary design to sit alongside the classical.
So, what you find today is a hotel which has the glamour of old, with the care and attention expected from a modern hotel. Sometimes, the grandeur seems to stifle natural flair of the human software running the place – each person is earnest and careful – and loyal: Jose the head Concierge has been with the hotel for over 25 years. But there are occasional gaps: a dirty cup or windows to the suite that haven’t been washed recently enough.
It’s hard to say exactly which is the best room in the house, but Lusso stayed in a double-room suite on the fifth floor with a corner lookout over Market and New Montgomery Streets. There’s another locked door suggesting that if you play your cards right, you can extend it into a triple room layout.
The lounge has 11 foot high, moulded ceilings it’s own chandelier. Walls are a restful light blue with white panelling. There are Bose sound systems and Nespresso makers, of course. But there are deep, linen clad sofas as well.
The bedroom is also generously sized, with a thin-framed darkwood four poster bed, easy chairs and space to walk around in. In fact, you could probably fit 2 average NY-sized hotel rooms in the bedroom alone.
The bathroom is large as well. Not huge, but big enough with twin basins set far apart in the marble surface so that you and your companion can clean your teeth vigorously at the same time without bumping elbows. It has to be that large, Lusso thinks, to house the 20 towels that are stashed away in different places.
There’s a full-sized bath and a double sized shower and there’s a competition for what should be the best little feature of the bathroom. Would it be the Byredo toiletries or the high-tech toilet seat?
Since this is the city of tech, then it’s probably the toilet seat which wins. There are about a dozen different functions, including a pulsating ‘front’ wash, which in all honesty, Lusso was very hesitant about trying. It could be a terrible embarrassment, with front of trousers, perhaps even shirt, soaked, or it could be the perfect invention to make those five minutes each day a little joy. These pages will reveal all soon enough, with the verdict signalled by either the condemnation of silence or a review of the 20 best electrically heated toilet seats with built-in pulsating bidet function.
Chris West stayed as a guest of the Palace Hotel, 2 New Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA 94105, USA • +1 415-512-1111