Arrival, or ‘checking in’, at luxury hotels is changing. Increasingly you can check-in via your hand-held device, ahead of time. If you are staying at a marvelously-original Citizen M, as the gal did in Amsterdam, you check in, on arrival, at one of a bank of desk-standing computers (input a credit card and your reservation number, say whether you want to face one way or the other, and add, if you want, breakfast and other ‘extras’ to your online basket – press confirm, and your receipt comes out, with your room number on it, so you can print your own room key). At luxury hotel level, however, there are nearly always real people involved. Talking of levels, the magnificent Ritz-Carlton San Francisco is, like the ages-old Duke of York nursery rhyme, ‘neither up nor down’ when it comes to Nob Hill. It has the advantage of being handy for downtown, CBD business and Union Square retail, as well as Huntingdon Park at the top of Nob Hill (renamed in the 1850s, from its former title California Hill, in honour of the Central Pacific Railroad’s ‘nobs’ who built mansions up there).
At Ritz-Carlton San Francisco charming young ladies, immaculately made up to a level that Bobbi Brown would admire, stand in front of a wall painting in soft blues and lavenders. Their uniform comes with lavender blouses of exactly the same hue. Clever. The public areas of the hotel are mainly soft grey and white marble, with slight hints of lavender in some areas, say touches of coloured glass in the ornate clear-crystal chandeliers in the lobby that have been modernized by being encased in large, straight-sided circular shades. If you want colour here, turn immediately to your left, to Parallel 37, the absolute opposite of the formal old-fashioned Dining Room that, manned by white gloves and the like, was the Gary Danko restaurant here many years ago. Parallel 37 is oranges and browns, and if you want low arm chairs, or shared high-up tables for six, or standard-height tables in satin-like wood, they have it here, for you.
There is bright colour in the lobby, too, in the form of the kids’ welcome desk (I rather pity any parents of youngest children, those who need buggies – this building is a rather steep hike up from Union Square and its great retail). There are some toddlers, breakfasting later, in the Club lounge on the eighth floor, and they are immaculately behaved. I hear the story of a couple who, over 20 years ago, were staying here before their outdoor marriage ceremony on the Golden Gate bridge. Just before the appointed hour it poured, nonstop, so the officiant came here, to the hotel, and the marriage was held in the lounge. Recently they came back for a renewal of vows and the sprightly officiant came too.
Nothing is beyond the capability of Gabrielle de Gray, one of the eight concierges who staff the Club from six in the morning to ten at night. She it was who organised that renewal of vows, she organized my flight check-in, and found me an umbrella to hike down to Embarcadero for dinner with friends. Soon, she and her colleagues will need all the patience they can muster. The 336-room hotel, built 1909 in classical style as the headquarters of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, is now going to undergo a complete new looks, thanks to lotsa-dollas from its owners, the Thayer Group. I love the design colour boards, soft and neutral for the rooms.
This is a hotel that attracts business tycoons who come so regularly they often leave their Tom Fords and other work outfits here, for valeting and hanging ready for the next visit. They know the rooms are well sound-proofed, that the bathroom lighting does everything except make you look 24 – though increasingly, says hotel GM Allen Highfield, the top techies and financials who stay here do look as if they are just out of college. When they are in their rooms and do not want to be disturbed, housekeeping maids cleverly hang bags with water and a good-night note outside the door. And since the room has an attractive box containing espresso machine, sachets, and both mugs and paper cups, some might want to spend all evening working away, in the room.
Ritz-Carlton is universally generous when it comes to the food and wine it gives away in its Club lounges, and the lounge here is no exception. Breakfast has bowls of perfect strawberries and about the nicest American yoghurt I have come across (Bellweather Farms Sheep Milk Yogurt from Petaluma). Evening snacks include babaghannouj, guacamole and hommus, and dressed (filled) rolls and cheese and so on. And, cleverly, the cocktail wines are kept at the right temperature in two-bottle Waring Pro wine chillers, which I had not seen before. Also, every Friday night there is a free tasting, led by winemakers of real ‘quality’ Californian wines. Next time I am in this luxury hotel, I look forward to seeing the new-look bedrooms, to enjoying a Friday night tasting, and going Saturday morning farmers-marketing with chef Michael Rotondo, who moved here from Charlie Trotter.