Fairmont, San Francisco

Caroline Hurry
Caroline Hurry

CAROLINE HURRY reviews the grande dame of Nob Hill

Staying here made me feel like a goddess on high. Black and white stills of President Kennedy, Princess Margaret, and assorted famous folk down the corridors capture the elite halcyon days of the 20th century.  From my room in the tower, my gaze sweeps past city streets, across the bay, and the island of Alcatraz.

The beautifully appointed lobby at the Fairmont in San Francisco

It’s worth visiting the Fairmont in San Francisco just to sip tea in the lobby surrounded by marble Corinthian columns, vaulted ceilings, velvet chairs, and the wraparound staircase. And oh, the joy of calling reception day or night and having your call answered after one ring with: “Good morning/evening Ms Hurry. How may I best assist you?” That’s what I call service

HISTORY

The hotel’s Tonga Room has been blowing people’s hair back since 1945.
The hotel’s Tonga Room has been blowing people’s hair back since 1945.

Opened in 1907, a year after an earthquake and fires ravaged the city, the Fairmount on Nob Hill  – aka “White House of the West” having hosted every U.S. president since William Taft – dominates the central San Francisco skyline. Movies filmed at this hotel include Vertigo, Dirty Harry, Towering Inferno, and The Rock.

WHAT’S IT LIKE

Staying here will make you feel like a Hollywood star.  Uniformed doormen leap forward to open your taxi door and escort you up the Palladian portico steps and staff members know your name. Melissa Farrar, director of marketing communications, was particularly fabulous and welcoming. The Fairmont, SF is the one place you’re likely to bump into somebody rich and famous in the splendid lobby with its marble Corinthian columns, vaulted ceilings, velvet chairs, and wraparound staircase. If you book a room in the tower, the view comes to you.

View from the 21st floor of the Fairmont, San Francisco
View from the 21st floor of the Fairmont, San Francisco

WHERE IS IT?

A short cable car trip from the bustling Financial District, Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf, The Fairmont’s stately entrance is in Mason Street atop Nob Hill, the only spot where each of the City’s cable car lines meet. 

WHO STAYS HERE

One of roof gardens at the Fairmont, San Francisco
One of roof gardens at the Fairmont, San Francisco

Well, Barack Obama, Bill & Hilary Clinton, Prince Charles, Mick Jagger, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, and Marlene Dietrich are all former guests, but mostly it’s international business execs taking advantage of the 55,000 square feet of meeting space and 22 function rooms.

ROOMS AND FACILITIES

Fairmont bedroom fit for a queen, prince or president.
Fairmont bedroom fit for a queen, prince or president.

The uber elite stay in the penthouse suite that spans the entire eighth floor, while ordinary mortals opt for one of 591 individually furnished guest rooms, including 62 elegant suites all offering impressive  City and Bay views.

I stayed in room 71 which offered a comfy bed, classy colonial-style furniture, iPod dock,  flatscreen, mini bar, dainty welcome snacks, a splendid bathroom with separate walk-in shower, deep tub and fluffy toweling bathrobe.

PLACES TO EAT:

Beyond delicious: breakfast at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco
Beyond delicious: breakfast at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco

Breakfasts at the Fairmont’s main restaurant, off the lobby are the best. Think fresh orange juice, berries, yoghurt, smoked salmon, waffles  delicious runny honey sourced from the hotel’s own bee hives and Illy coffee.

Cocktail at the Tonga Room
Cocktail time

The hotel’s Tonga Room, a retro Tiki bar, has blown people’s hair back since 1945, with its tropical rain forest with faux thunder, lightning, regular rain showers and tables under thatched umbrellas surrounding the pool. Mai Tais come in ceramic coconut shells and a band performs from a floating raft. Splashy post-war 40s, swinging 60s, the Tonga Room is whatever you want it to be.

CONFERENCE FACILITIES

Entrance to the Tonga Room at the Fairmont Hotel.
Entrance to the Tonga Room at the Fairmont Hotel.

The Diplomat Club,  official home to the Consular Corp. of San Francisco offers business execs expert staff, and 22 superb  venues hosting anything from board meetings to the grandest of galas. The views from the Crown Meeting Room on the 24th floor are said to be the best in the city.

Private dining in the Penthouse suite.
Private dining in the Penthouse suite.

Each room offers a spacious work desk, multi-line telephone with voice-mail, High Speed Internet, and  a 24-hour business centre. Yes, of course there’s a gym. I just never quite managed to locate it.

VERDICT: To misquote Walter Cronkite, leaving The Fairmont, San Francisco, is like saying bidding farewell to an old flame. You’ll want to linger (a hellofa lot) longer.

  • Caroline Hurry flew from JHB to London and on to San Francisco with British Airways on the A380. Read the inaugural flight review here