Luxury Hotels

And, like the Grand Old Duke of York, the gal moves up the hill

Lobby flowers

The gal moved half way up Nob Hill to Ritz-Carlton San Francisco, which is even more luxurious than ever – HBA’s designs, in contemporary-21st century style, have made Frank Nicholson’s earlier ideas distant memories to those guests who have been coming here since Hervé Humler, as GM, opened the 336-room hotel in 1991.  Amazingly, 18 of the 400-strong work force have, says GM Rick Corcoran, been here all that time.  Wow, what changes they have seen – though perhaps flowers, like those on the left, go on for ever. One of the innovations since my last visit is the JCB boutique, above: a cubby-hole leading off the main lobby is a Jean-Claude Boisset tasting room.

Check-in for youngsters

Other hotels put in special reception desks for kids but this hotel’s is particularly cute, and I did see lots of toddlers, and their slightly-elder siblings, actually sitting at this desk, or at least trying to destroy it. Somehow this hotel is able simultaneously to accommodate yummy mummies showing off their offspring as well as the mature high society of San Francisco.  Locals come for special events, and perhaps just to have afternoon tea in the glorious lobby lounge – somewhat intriguingly, early morning the integral bar, to the left as you go into the lounge, has ceiling-high mirrors overhead but later in the day these reveal two television screens, one, it seems, always showing sport.

Club breakfast vignette

The eighth floor Club lounge was always trend-setting, even in the last century.  Now, run continuously by chic women, and men in cornflower and white striped ties, it has a much bigger array of offerings. The Oenotech dispenser, for instance, has four different labels – I was particularly impressed by the Talbott Kali Hari 2016 Pinot Noir.  Breakfast similarly has a wide range of offerings. Some innovations are suggested by team members – Rick Corcoran says he has never had such a dedicated and passionate work force.  He too has now become a fully-fledged addict of the Ritz-Carlton creed, adhering to the little fold-out book of beliefs that all team members carry.

Rick Corcoran dispenses the ‘fog’ cocktail

It was a team suggestion, says Rick Corcoran, that led to the nightly complimentary San Francisco ‘fog’ cocktail.  Every day at 5.25 p.m. precisely a cart decorated with San Francisco logos is wheeled into the main lobby.  It also has two bowls of dry-ice cocktails, one a rum punch and, that night, the other a no-alcohol cranberry juice.  For ten minutes precisely anyone who is passing is offered a glass of whichever they prefer.  This will be taken further, he says: a sizeable model of the Golden Gate Bridge – he indicated about six feet high – will somehow be part of this offering. There is certainly always something going on at this luxury hotel halfway-up-the-hill. What else will appear? WANT TO SEE SUITE 838?

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Luxury Hotels

San Francisco, here we come….

Welcome to San Francisco

San Francisco is busy year-round, with tourists and business, and luxury hotels’ owners and operators must surely be happy.  There are also such mega events as the forthcoming Salesforce meeting, September 25-28, 2018, convened by the world’s #1 customer relationship management (CRM) platform, based in town – CEO Marc Benioff, 54, seems to have invited 64,000 of his closest professional friends to come to San Francisco then (Marc Benioff, by the way, is the Salesforce visionary, said by Forbes to be worth $6.7 billion, who on September 17th, 2018, with his wife, former publicist Lynne Benioff, paid  $190 million in cash for Time Magazine). The gal, fortunately, merely coincided with a thousand or so climate change activists, and yes, some world leaders, no names mentioned, were also staying in the lovely and unforgettable Four Seasons San Francisco. The memories start right on arrival – see the welcome card, a reminder of which city you are in.

.. and welcome snack

I had arrived early evening and the ever-thoughtful team, under GM Joerg Rodig, realised that after a long flight, and almost at the end of what would have been a 24-hour day, I would be hungry. The elegant board of cassecroute cold cuts was, in the old phrase, just what the doctor ordered, especially with a glass of Row Eleven Russian River Pinot Noir 2016. Welcome to California!  Welcome to the State of superb foods and wines, and great fitness and wellness – yes, of course I headed the following morning to the integral Equinox gym, a two-floor giant of a place.

Memorable key-card

Five minutes after Equinox’s 5.30 a.m. opening, several dozen daily regulars, presumably all local tycoons and aspirants, were already stretching and twisting under the watchful eyes of personal trainers. Partly thanks to the skilful attention of the hotel owner’s representative Pamela Malkani, the entire hotel has, incidentally, been magnificently updated since my last visit two years ago.  Meyer Davis’ new interiors are stunning – sleek teal and stone.  Suite 1603 has well-chosen art, sculpture and reading material.  See, above, how a book on Georgia O’Keeffe (Living Modern, by Wanda Corn, published by the Brooklyn Museum, 2018) is held between two natural-wood bookends. There are also elements of fun, things that made me smile – see the room key, on the left. In fact the entire hotel has lots of fun pointers.  You can now sit up, at communal tables, or sit down, in comfy chairs, in the lobby, which has a working fire.  And everywhere, it seems, there are electric sockets.

Joerg Rodig

The bar is brought especially to life on alternate Thursday evenings, when it hosts The Den, a pop-uppeakeasy during cocktail hour.  Food in the adjacent MKT restaurant is much more California-wellness aware than before.  I was only able to try breakfast, where the alternatives included a green dream smoothie, with kale, lime, mango, ginger and maple syrup – add whey or soy, if you want. The set healthy breakfast, by the way, includes the only full-fat, that is to say ‘real’, local yoghurt I have found in California, from Straus Family Creamery in Petaluma.  I was breakfasting with Joerg Rodig, who has only been here a few weeks.  Honestly, the only thing wrong with San Francisco is the cost of housing, he says (perhaps, from the travellers’ viewpoint, the only challenge is finding an empty room in a luxury hotel…). NOW SEE SUITE 1603


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Luxury Hotels

On the water in Hamburg, and the luxury of a hotel’s private landing

Hubert Neubacher

Hamburg’s architectural logo – its Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower or Sydney Opera House – is Elbphilharmonie (see above), the concert hall complex, designed by Herzog & de Meuron which opened January 2017 at a final cost of apparently €870 million, four times its estimate. Already famed for its stunning shape and superlative acoustics, it undoubtedly brings masses of visitors, especially Germans, plus Dutch and Swiss, to Hamburg.  Its main drawback is the seeming impossibility of getting tickets. Even concierges of luxury hotels are stymied, so who IS controlling the supply?  The gal got excited when Songkick advertised tickets on line but, on further digging, no, no tickets are currently available but try again for Jacob Karlzon, scheduled for November 18th, 2018.

Steigenberger room service lunch

There is so much else to do in Hamburg. Hubert Neubacher, an Austrian who has lived here so many years he is, almost, accepted as a Hamburger, owns and runs Barkassen-Meyer, which has nine boats doing Elbe river tours. These are ideal for wedding and function parties, and for general sightseeing – every great city, as I know from Amsterdam and St Petersburg, looks so different from the water.  On a 36-passenger boat with really knowledgeable English-speaking guide Klaus, I learned about Hamburg’s old buildings and new container business. Neubacher dropped me right back at the landing dock of Steigenberger Hotel Hamburg, a stalwart that is really handy not only for river trips, and having direct access to the S-bahn, but for such essentials as faultless WiFi and quick-simple room service, and lovely helpful staff.

Martime wall-markers in the shower

In fact all 233 rooms of this clever hotel were full tonight, with a conference – usually, it is heavy on German and German-speaking business, with couples and families driving in, especially to enjoy all that Hamburg has to offer (yes, it has masses of other shows, including The Lion King, so who worries that they cannot get tickets to the ‘Elphi’?).  The city also, sadly, has far too many loutish tourists, especially stag and hen night groups from UK, and Hubert Neubacher, who heads Hamburg’s travel association SKAL is already worried about over-tourism. Anyway, the Steigenberger, which, like a beautiful woman belies her age (it opened in 1993) is about to get a face-lift.  I loved the mock-up room. JOI, designers who are based in Frankfurt, will be turning nondescript pale apricot bedrooms into statements of greys, and I loved such accents as height indicators in new rooms’ showers.

Moritz Klein

Moritz Klein, whom I last saw in Frankfurt, has been in charge of this highly successful hotel since December 2017.  He is fully aware that some of Steigenberger Hotel Hamburg’s loyal supporters might not all approve of the new-look – these, I suspect, are the type of lovely locals whom I saw having afternoon tea in the BAF, Bistro am Fleet, conservatory (take a normal size cake and cut it not into 12 or eight portions but, here, into six)..  BAF does jolly good food, just like room service.  I thoroughly enjoyed my wiener schnitzel, with a side order of sautéed spinach, while Moritz Klein’s fries, to go with his beef tartare main course, looked so good I had an order too.  To be honest I cannot say I enjoyed my eventual departure, but I appreciated it – 4.30am personalised wakeup, the gym open, the espresso machine worked first time and the Egyptian night manager said the car was waiting.  He smiled just as genuinely as his daytime colleagues had. NOW JOIN THE BOAT TRIP, AND THEN SEE SUITE 708


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