San Francisco's Palace Hotel takes you to an earlier, and much classier, time.
The refurbished Palace Hotel, reopened in June 2015, has gone through several iterations since it first opened in San Francisco in 1875.
Then it was the largest hotel in the world, with 750 telegraph-equipped rooms and five “rising rooms” (now called elevators). The Palace was rebuilt after the 1906 fire as a Gilded Age haven for visitors and the city’s elite, constructed around a central Garden Court.
The latest renovation modernized rooms, the gym and the skylit swimming pool, leaving intact the early 20th-century neoclassical ambience that makes a visitor want to don a beribboned Gibson girl hat and gloves before stepping out.
The Palace is in San Francisco’s financial district, a short four blocks from the Embarcadero, the waterfront promenade and the twinkling waters of the Bay. The Montgomery Street BART stop is half a block away.
We stayed as a family of four in Room 365, with two queen beds. It was low enough in the building to reach by swanning up the lobby’s grand curving staircase. The room was decorated in ultramodern minimal black and a pearly gray-violet color scheme, a sharp contrast to the mirrored lobby and gilded hallways. The walls’ only décor were a few framed black and white photographs of an old leather briefcase, the bay and pilings in fog and a 1940s telephone. Our original window still opened a little — a nice touch, if you prefer real to canned air in a hotel room. Wi-Fi set us back $15 for 24 hours on our five devices.
The sink and vanity were made of sleek gray marble, the large mirror had two strips of white light built into it, and the shower and bath were behind a glass half-screen, not a curtain. The shower head was large, but the water pressure not markedly powerful (then again, this is drought-afflicted California). The towels were standard white cotton, as were the snuggly bathrobes. The Gilchrist and Soames toiletries were accompanied by a hair dryer tucked into a leather box.
The pool, in an airy room on the fourth floor, was beneath a glass ceiling that showcased the foggy San Francisco sky. We had arrived a year ago on the Fourth of July, and gaggles of shrieking children were cavorting and splashing. The pool was a heavenly and quite different experience at dawn, lap-swimming almost solitary, as the sun rose over the building. The gym had state-of-the-art equipment.
Room service at 8:30 a.m. took 20 minutes and got us two espressos (doubles that we didn’t request, a nice touch) and a small basket of minimuffins, mini-Danish and a croissant, for $39 plus tip.
The real dining experience was in the Garden Court, with its soaring stained-glass ceiling and Italian marble columns, dominated by nine dangling pale pink Austrian crystal chandeliers. We had a decadent Sunday breakfast among giant floral arrangements and buzzing black-clad waiters. The only downside was the jarring disconnect between the room’s fairy-tale elegance and the sloppy sartorial style of American tourists, in sweatsuits, basketball shorts, flip-flops and T-shirts.
The Palace also offers dining in the dark, woody Pied Piper Lounge, where we sipped a cocktail and contemplated a huge Maxfield Parrish painting of the Pied Piper, commissioned by the hotel in 1909.
An evening cocktail in the Pied Piper Lounge followed the next day by breakfast beneath the elegant glass roof is a once-in-a-lifetime memory.