San Francisco's reinvented grand hotel
When you walk up the stairs to Palace Hotel, A Luxury Collection Hotel in downtown San Francisco, the first thing you’ll notice are the elaborate wrought-iron doors with ornate hand-painted gold details, including delicate cherub faces that look down on you. Pass through the doors and a cheerful, friendly bellman smiles at you. Upon entry into the lobby, a massive flower arrangement (perhaps purple hydrangeas) catches your eye, but beyond that is something much more breathtaking: the hotel’s Garden Court.
A stunning grand ballroom with marble columns, glass ceilings, chandeliers that date back to the late 1800s, and a rich gold and cream color palette, the Garden Court is the hotel’s dining, meeting and lounging area. A 2015 remodel updated the space with new modern furnishings. The new Garden Court is still grand, but not stuffy or outdated.
The San Francisco hotel, which opened on an entire downtown block (between New Montgomery, Market, Jessie and Annie streets) in 1875, is filled with fascinating history. It’s on California’s historical landmark registry and is one of the state’s oldest buildings. Thirty-one years into the hotel’s life, the 1906 earthquake struck and the resulting fires destroyed much of the city and part of the Palace’s interior. However, the majority of the hotel’s shell and many details, like the chandeliers, survived. Still, the fires required renovations and the hotel debuted its new look in late 1909.
You’ll likely notice that the hallways are wider than those found in most hotels. That’s because the majority of guests who traveled in the early 1900s brought a lot more luggage than your modern-day rolling suitcase. Many notable guests roamed those halls, too; everyone from Henry Ford to Thomas Edison to Bill Clinton has stayed at the historic hotel.
The Dining and Drinking
The beautiful centerpiece of the Palace is the Garden Court. A large open space under soaring white marble archways and covered sky-lit ceilings, the court offers three exceptional dining experiences. There is a lovely breakfast buffet, an afternoon tea and the newly debuted GC Lounge, an chic area in front of the Garden Court’s dining tables that serves a menu of small plates and cocktails daily from 5:30 to 10 pm. There’s live music and a happening vibe. Tourists who speak multiple languages mingle with native San Franciscans in the sophisticated lobby lounge that is decorated with a massive paisley rug in blue, gray, and purple; modern blue couches; dark wood communal tables; tufted tan leather arm chairs; plenty of mirrors; and nine sets of original glistening glass chandeliers.
If you want a drink, head into the wood-paneled Pied Piper. There, order a Boothby cocktail (rye whiskey, Italian vermouth, bitters, Luxardo cherry and sparkling wine) and admire the bar and grill’s famous namesake painting. Commissioned for the 1909 reopening, the vibrantly colored painting shows the flute-playing Pied Piper luring the children away, an act of revenge against the townsfolk for not paying him for ridding the area of rats. The hotel drew public outcry when it tried to sell the Maxfield Parrish piece (which is reportedly worth millions) in 2013, so it decided to keep the 16-foot-long, 6-foot-tall painting where it belonged — behind the bar.
The luxury hotel’s 556 rooms have all been renovated, including extensive bathroom updates. Like most of the décor at the Palace, old is combined with new in the rooms. For example, although all of the guest rooms require an electronic key card to be opened, the door knobs bear the original Palace Hotel monograph.
Each of the spaces seems incredibly residential. You don’t feel like you’re walking into a cookie-cutter hotel, but instead your own elegant apartment. Many of the new bathrooms are outfitted with the electronic Toto washlet that is all the rage in Japan, and all of the rooms are awash in colors that highlight the remarkable original crown molding. Glass coffee tables and desks, plush white linen couches, silky gray curtains, and minimal artwork make the spaces feel comforting, but luxurious.