What's new in San Francisco
Like much of California, San Francisco has awakened from a long economic nap and is buzzing with energy missing since before the dot-com bust more than a decade ago. A bevy of civic projects, from a waterfront makeover to the opening of new cultural institutions, has made the city more attractive than ever to visitors. New and renewed meeting and event venues beckon, too.
Boutique hotels have long been sweet in San Francisco, but the Mystic Hotel by Charlie Palmer is the first retreat in town to be branded by a celebrity chef. The 82-room property in the heart of the bustling Union Square district opened last spring in a building formerly occupied by the Crescent Hotel. Palmer’s progressive American cuisine is showcased in the Burritt Room + Tavern. Scarred wood paneling, exposed pipes, vintage photos and curtained booths create a film noir vibe inspired by nearby Burritt Alley, where Sam Spade’s partner was shot down in The Maltese Falcon. A private dining area can accommodate 25 to 30 guests. The adjacent Berlinetta Lounge is a private room with a speakeasy ambiance that welcomes 60 for a cocktail reception or 30 for a meeting. Dark leather couches, tall stools, vintage photos and race car memorabilia set the mood. The Mystic can block up to 20 rooms per night for conferences and groups.
On the other end of the size spectrum, San Francisco’s largest hotel, the 1,908-room Hilton San Francisco Union Square, spent big on renovations that saw its oldest tower, dating from the 1960s, closed for seven months. The $53 million reveal came last April with the event space and last June with the rooms. Basking in a fresh new look are 550 guest rooms, 31 meeting rooms and the 20,000-square-foot Continental Ballroom, which can be broken down into nine individual rooms. "As the largest hotel in the West outside of Las Vegas, meetings are a huge part of what we do," says Scott Baublitz, director of sales and marketing. Together with the 13,500-square-foot Golden Gate Ballroom, meeting space at the three-building hotel now totals 134,500 square feet, the equivalent of two and a half football fields.
Spanish colonial revival is a beautiful architectural style, but when it comes to making over a 1920s-era hotel, decisions have to be made on whether to emphasize period embellishments or go contemporary. The 171-room Hotel Adagio, which in March became part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, went modern with a $7 million makeover that included a bow to the past. The ornate exterior was preserved, along with the beautiful beamed ceilings and grand fireplace on the penthouse level. A contemporary new look extends to every other corner and the reconfiguration allows groups to buy out Floor Sixteen, which encompasses three guest rooms, two luxury penthouse suites, two meeting rooms and the Maggie Alley Terrace, an outdoor space that can accommodate 35 for receptions, or larger groups when combined with an adjacent suite. "It’s open-air, with great views of the city skyline, and people love it for receptions, private parties and special events," says Suzie Yang, general manager.
Fisherman’s Wharf isn’t just for tourists, as evidenced by the priority placed by the Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf on sprucing up its 19,000 square feet of function space during a recent renovation. The $1 million facelift, designed to reflect the 313-room hotel’s proximity to the water, includes handblown glass chandeliers, cozy fireplaces and a shimmering centerpiece fountain. A networking lounge area outfitted with power outlets for mobile devices has proved an immediate hit.
In the South of Market (SoMa) district, hotels are in change mode. If you haven’t peeked in the 404-room W San Francisco in a while, you might think you’ve landed on another planet. A dramatic renovation has transformed social spaces with an ultra-modern look inspired by the cubist shapes of the city and the soft fog that contributes to its many moods. The lobby, lounges and bars are done up in deep black, moody blues and quiet neutrals. Meeting space wasn’t touched this time around, but a chic new restaurant, Trace, takes fog as its ambient element and offers private parties the option of communal tables curtained cabana seating and other flexible arrangements.
With the economy picking up, many other San Francisco hotels have loosened the purse strings to invest in renovations and technology updates. The Mandarin Oriental, known for bird’s-eye views on the 38th to 48th floors of one of the city’s tallest buildings, made a splash with a 25th anniversary revamp that included the 40th-floor Sky Deck and a new restaurant, Brasserie S&P.
Meanwhile, Kimpton, the name that pioneered the boutique hotel concept in San Francisco, has shown its moxie yet again with renovations at two hotels, the Argonaut at Fisherman’s Wharf and Hotel Triton at the entrance to Chinatown. Look for reproduction steamer furnishings at the nautically themed Argonaut and a beatnik vibe at the Triton, where local poets, artists and musicians are invited to mingle with guests at the evening wine hour.
On the tech front, groups meeting at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport will be pleased to learn that wireless Internet capability in meeting rooms has been expanded to accommodate up to 3,000 mobile devices at once.
New Places to Say Cheers
For planners charged with finding an exquisite dining experience for their VIP execs, there’s no finer reservation in town than at Saison, which reopened Feb. 1 in a new location at 178 Townsend (SoMa). The intimate, 18-seat restaurant, with two coveted Michelin stars, is overseen by chef Joshua Skenes and sommelier Mark Bright; it offers an 18- to 20-course menu at $248 per person, with optional wine parings for $148. Need we say that snagging a table here requires reservations far in advance?
State Bird Provisions
When Bon Appétit named State Bird Provisions 2012’s best new restaurant in the country, a predictable avalanche of business poured in, but quality never faltered. The atmosphere at this Western Addition showstopper is decidedly playful, the cuisine wonderfully adventurous and the concept nothing if not novel: Small-plate dishes are served from dim sum carts or trays that servers circulate among tables. The menu changes constantly, and chef/owners
Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski, formerly of the popular Rubicon, never fail to surprise with their inventive creations. Because the restaurant is small, groups can be accommodated only with a buyout. Private events for up to 48 for a seated meal or 58 for a standing reception are available only on Sundays unless reserved more than 60 days in advance.
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