“Design is thinking made visual.”
My first major trip of 2020 was to San Francisco, a favorite culinary city, and I was thrilled to find myself in the newly renovated The Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel, which I had indulged in previously when it was a wonderland of its own historic charm. In a geotagged world of growing dots and pins, location is clearly the pedestal of more than just real estate and with views of the topography of Union Square and Tenderloin, the hotel was a true testament that you cannot say party without saying art. And thus began my exploration of it’s history themed upgrade which unraveled many factoids.
Built to house visitors to the Panama-Pacific International Expansion in 1915 to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal, it’s no surprise that the inspiration came from a historic Pacific Heights home designed by George A. Applegarth who had conceived the original Clift, and chose this as a basis to give the hotel a residential tonality. My favorite spaces were the lobbies and hallways, which were bright and airy, akin to an amphitheater. As a nod to the era, the oakwood was one typically used on ships out in the Bay, relaying a longing for adventures at sea. The most intriguing were the accessories and art pieces chosen for decor: a disheveled mirror which was perhaps a nod to the fault lines below California, placed by the elevators for a curious selfie moment. There was also a deceptive visual of a 1920s man broken by panel movement, and of course, the iconic oversized chair which was a playground for all guests and accomplices.
I preferred using the immaculately monochrome Alice in Wonderland style stairway to ascend and descend through the hallways to my room. There were residential in tone, but with a very calculated design aesthetic. There were many personalized photographs different on each floor, and my favorite was a corner stairwell with half an arch and half a stair, almost like the gallows of a ship.
Come evening, I would sway down to the legendary Redwood Room, which retained much of its historical significance. The new bar area was manufactured from an 800-year-old redwood tree found by our custom millworker in Montana, giving the entire space a golden rouge glow. The bar itself was glinting with options that were fit to determine one’s destiny for the night. My sins were doubled, with a sweet sip of the Lillet Spritz with Lillet Rose, Prosecco and Club Soda, a bubbly prelude to the night. My favorite was my nod to Italy with the sumptuous House Negroni (invented in Florence!) with Sipsmith Gin, Martini Bitters and Sweet Vermouth, which was smoother than it was strong, and left me glowing in the radiance of the ambiance, courtesy of the glinting bar wall of infinite possibilities.
With a testament to a subdued atmosphere and a juxtaposition of contemporary and vintage style which is unsurpassed in the colorful city, the hotel lived up to its promise of being a cozy and fulfilling home away from home in San Francisco.