Last time I was here in San Francisco, the Palomar was being renovated. The renovation is done (in the lobby anyway and in the restaurant/bar) and Dirty Habits has a new patio outside. The new stuff is all shiny.

The week I picked to visit San Francisco is not a good one. The city is filled to the gills with VMWare types who have all of the prices in town through the roof. Even the airport hotels are full and overpriced. I am being seriously overcharged here at the Palomar this time and even the GM Christopher Smith feels guilty about it. [Accounting, if you're reading this, it's not my fault!] Ah, capitalism.

I am in 802 again this time, which is a very nice room, though the shower is beginning to get rickety. Sadly, there is no gigantic flower arrangement to greet me. I guess we’ll have to chalk one up to Chicago?! Walter is here though, wondering in his fishy way where the flowers are.

Hi Walter.

Hi Walter.

Without further ado, a few more 802 pictures.

802 bedland at the Palomar

802 bedland at the Palomar

Bathroomland in 802 at the Palomar

Bathroomland in 802 at the Palomar

Though this shower is not plastic, it is ready to be nuked and replaced with a glass cube.

Though this shower is not plastic, it is ready to be nuked and replaced with a glass cube.

I got here way too early today and snuck into the patio at Dirty Habits to work while my room was readied. A couple of hours after getting into 802, a very nice amenity arrived with a note from Sara (who checked me in, thanks Sara) and JP (the invisible)—replete with my favorite sparkling water. Now I have something to rehydrate myself with after I sample a cocktail from Mr. Means.

Sparkling water, fruit, cheese and a nice note.

Sparkling water, fruit, cheese and a nice note.

Anyway, 4.5 showerheads for the SF Palomar (and more for those with a closer read).

Here’s the problem. NPS is way spoiled. Steph in DC? Personal to the max. Love spending time with you. Joe in Boston? This is how it should be done—with an excellent team! Maximizing mind space (which the marketing people approximate with Kimpton Karma). Donation to boat only found on twitter feed? Astounding. Palomar SF? By comparison, some attention to detail missing. Maybe too close to corporate? Maybe too busy a week? Maybe managing to the numbers? Or maybe senior leadership has moved well beyond one property? But we’re staying here now. Anyway enough of that first world problem.

Positives. Dirty Habits barkeep Sarah rocks. Great fun experimenting.

Experiment One:
2 oz pepper rye
1 oz jelinik
.5 oz malort
.5 dry curacao
This one is so close. We were going to try a version with Yellow Chartreuse, but we ran out of jelinik. We also discussed a creme de menthe high note wash.

Experiment Two
1.5 oz banks 5 year
1 oz puerto fino sherry (trying to get Means to Spain apparently)
.75 oz china china

And then out to the city. Why not Spruce in SF? Meh. Nice restaurant, but not that great for SF really. Great company. OK food. Cantina is a superb place to host an event, especially if Alexa Weber-Morales is singing. Great sushi in Cupertino at Sushi Kuni (a delightful tiny hole in the wall).

Leave it to my friend Stephane Vogel to arrange for the presidential suite! My first stay at Hotel George (a Kimpton hotel) was super fantastic. And the shower is simply not to be beat.

Room 801 (the presidential suite) at Hotel George

Room 801 (the presidential suite) at Hotel George

After a warm greeting by Blair at the front desk, I headed up to 801 where I was greeted with: note, wine, cheese, and sparkling water. A superb welcome. Thanks Steph, for the hospitality and the room! This is Kimpton Karma in action.

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801 bedroom at Hotel George

801 bedroom at Hotel George

The bathroom is fantastic.

Best shower in DC.

Best shower in DC.

A glass shower with a view.  And a bench!  NPS is in love.

A glass shower with a view. And a bench! NPS is in love.

Five showerheads and a free lunch for the George and its staff!

Dinner at Proof was good. Proof has a reasonable bar program and a great wine list. After dinner we somehow got trapped at the Bistro Bis bar which though not owned by Kimpton is associated with the George by reference of being attached to it. Ouch.

Among other cocktails and before absinthe hour, barman Ed Jenks created an experimental Essay #3
2 oz Laird 7.5 yr apple brandy
.5 oz Leizzaroni Amaretto
.5 oz malmsey madeira
.5 oz sour mix (fresh)
.5 oz chilli honey syrup
dash angostura
Stir. Strain. Serve with lemon twist. (In general, too much going on with this drink. Still needs work.)

Steph and I had a delicious lunch at Bistrot Bis next day after my talk. It’s always fun to catch up and learn more about the hospitality business.

Manet at the cusp of impressionism and the academy.

Manet at the cusp of impressionism and the academy.

The afternoon yielded some time to a visit to the National Art Gallery with Richard. An afternoon of art and discussion is just what the doctor ordered in late August.

As early evening rain fell, we made another fantastic visit to the incomparable Columbia Room where mel mixed some excellent drinks including the Leap Year Cocktail
2 oz plymouth gin
.5 oz sweet vermouth (cocci)
.5 oz royal combier
.25 oz lemon juice
shake. strain. garnish with lemon peel.

Dinner and bad bluegrass at Argonaut rounded out the visit.

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It’s true that NPS has been here countless bajillions of times. And it is true that like in all relationships we’ve had our ups and downs. But the Hotel Marlowe staff (ably led by GM Joe Capalbo) outdid themselves this time. Best amenity ever. Wait for it…

Team Tartan sailing in the 2013 Leukemia Cup.

Team Tartan sailing in the 2013 Leukemia Cup.

The staff made a sizeable donation to my Leukemia Cup sailing team. Holy cow you guys absolutely rock. (You, dear reader can join em here.) We’re trying to raise $22,000 this year, and every penny counts. Just wow.

Thanks Amanda and Ryan and everyone else involved.

Thanks Amanda and Ryan and everyone else involved.

I am in 621 which seems to be my default room these days (though I do fondly recall the Presidential Suite…yes I do…love that prosthetic blog memory unit!). Things are very nice here with plenty of room to relax and get some work done before the work starts…or something.

Bedroom 621 at Hotel Marlowe.

Bedroom 621 at Hotel Marlowe.

Living room with really TALL furniture in 621 at Hotel Marlowe

Living room with really TALL furniture in 621 at Hotel Marlowe

I do really like the bathroom part of this room, though I still have never been in that huge tub. One of these years, I swear.

What is that in the mirror?

What is that in the mirror?

The shower is definitely not plastic. NPS approved.

No plastic to be seen near the shower in 621 at Hotel Marlowe

No plastic to be seen near the shower in 621 at Hotel Marlowe

Though I am missing my rock in the middle of the Shenandoah River now that no fly July has come to an end, Hotel Marlowe and their killer staff are a home away from home. Five showerheads plus two.

The evening started with a delicious cocktail at Brick and Mortar. Great space. Great vibe. Great cocktails. Good place for a business chat. After a Greenpoint, we tried a house invented More Than Classic:
1 oz wild turkey 101
1 oz Aperol
1 oz Braulio
.25 oz demarara syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
A roller coaster of a drink that starts bitter and is a bit too sweet in the end. Not much in the middle. But a decent experiment.

Dinner at Bondir was nice, but they are trying too hard. The first three courses (bread included) were a veritable confusion of great tastes. Too much going on. But some sublime ideas in there. Main course and desert were much better. All in all, Bondir seems overpriced to me. The atmosphere is nice and homey though.

All this and a telescope to boot.

All this and a telescope to boot.

Don’t tell anybody, but I have only been on 2 airplanes since June, and one was today! You see, air travel is no longer something I look forward to since it devolved to “bus service in the air” a couple of years ago. It was a long slow death spiral, but consistent and very much depressing.

As long time readers of NPS know, I am no longer a fan of United airlines. After 10 years of being a 100K member and 1,560,787 miles, United finally used up ALL of my remaining loyalty. That’s right. Every drop. I’m stuck with United since I live near a major hub of theirs, but I plan to do what I can to avoid flying with United.

So, for the first trip back from the famed “no fly July” we’re giving Jet Blue a shot. Lets compare and contrast, from the sublime to the stupid.

Why Jet Blue is Better than United (a one trip comparison)
1. flies modern equipment (new embrear regional jet vs United prop (?!) jet)
2. has a better commuter terminal for East coast travel at IAD (Terminal A, the “walmart” terminal sucks)
3. costs less (by $200 to get to Boston and back)
4. people at Jet Blue seem to like their jobs (at United they all know Jeff Smisek sucks and they hate working for him…really)
5. whole cans of soda water by default even in cattle class
6. United loves to talk about what they are “gonna” do, but they never get it done –> WIFI = not that hard
7. Jeff Smisek sucks and he is the CEO of United

Not that Jet Blue is perfect mind you. I don’t like paying $50 for an extra bag as a newb, but I have to have my bag of electronics for this trip. I also don’t like paying $30 more so I can get on first and stow my instruments, but I am sure as heck never checking my precious violin. So that all sucks. This trip will cost me $160 more than planned. Maybe #3 up there is wrong.

In the end it is clear that I need an airplane.

p.s. Here is a comparison between United and Delta FWIW.

If you follow NPS, you know about no fly July which basically gives me a chance to slow down and think away from airplanes. You may also have figured out that this year has (thankfully) been a light year of travel so far. After more than a decade of road warrior work, that feels pretty good FWIW.

Anyway, no fly July plans were interrupted this year for a trip up to NYC. United was its usual awful self. For the first time ever, I paid revenue for what was essentially a jump seat on a propjet. United has gone completely to the dogs.

It got better. The NJTransit train from EWR was convenient and fast.

Once we got to NY, we started with a game of Escape the Room, which was pretty fun all told. The only problem with the game is it is not puzzley enough and relies too much on random finding. But we had a good time (even though we ultimately did not escape the room).

We regrouped at Butcher’s Daughter near Little Italy to plan a quick trip down to Battery Park. Where we took a very touristy sailboat ride to the Statue of Liberty.

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

Dinner at Keste with Jason and Haley was fantastic and authentically italian as always. A quick trip to Mulberry Project was kind of disappointing due to the thundering dance beat. Good drinks, wrong atmosphere.

View from the Cigital apartment in NY.

View from the Cigital apartment in NY.

We’re staying at the apartment again. Midtown 36th floor penthouse. It’s gorgeous in NY this week. Kind of Fall-like weather. Not bad. I guess nature is playing along with no fly July.

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More NY impressions…

Morning way up north at the cloisters. A visit to the conservatory gardens in central park. Excellent tapas at Txikito. Comedy at the upright citizens brigade. Late nightcap at Ayza wine bar.

The Cloisters

The Cloisters

A walk down the high line after a very late but decent breakfast at the Petit Poulet (right across the street from the apartment) is a good way to start the day. Follow that with coffee at the superb Happy Bones. Then a first visit to the 9-11 Memorial museum. When you go, plan to spend over 3 hours.

Liam Finn at the Poisson Rouge

Liam Finn at the Poisson Rouge

A late night begins at Le Poisson Rouge (LPR) for a Liam Finn show. Great show. Excellent use of charisma. Followed by midnight dinner at the Blue Ribbon.

Liam Finn also loves customer 42 (starbucks identity of NPS)

Liam Finn also loves customer 42 (starbucks identity of NPS)

Sunday included a trip up the Empire State Building next door, a visit to the Brooklyn flea market (meh), lunch #2 at The Meatball Shop, an Iranian film (close curtain) at Film Forum and dinner at L’Asso.

The apartment and its tall next door neighbor.

The apartment and its tall next door neighbor.

Way down there is the roof of the apartment.

Way down there is the roof of the apartment.

Time to go home (on the Acela).

Even when you fill a hotel with 300 people, things can go sideways in Marriott land. Met at the door by a persnickety doorman, I was refused luggage service when I arrived and asked to drive around to the loading dock. What?! Well, there was a bit of music equipment, but in the past it has all fit on 2 carts. No bending of the rules for mr door weeny.

Too much luggage for the front door?  Nah.

Too much luggage for the front door? Nah.

So, instead of a welcome I got to bake in the heat, sweat through the shirt I was going to wear in a video shoot an hour later, and work with (the very able and excellent) security people. Hey Westfields, your front entrance situation needs a reboot. (FWIW, after a chat with the manager, the checkout situation went much more smoothly.)

Still from the video shoot.  Had to change shirts due to checkin SNAFU.

Still from the video shoot. Had to change shirts due to checkin SNAFU.

But there is some good news. The Internet situation has been fixed. Free, more reasonable net. Which when you are running a conference full of geeks (like last year) is important.

And there is some bad news. The shower still sucks in suite 130. I mean really, get a new shower in here. The rest of the room is far better.

This is the bad shower in 130 at the Westfields Marriott.

This is the bad shower in 130 at the Westfields Marriott.

After a long day, including a video panel, a talk, and a music performance, it was nice to retire to some wine and cheese left by the event staff. Thanks for that! It was demolished before I thought to take its picture.

The stage ready for some Gently Let Down by Catherine.

The stage ready for some Gently Let Down by Catherine.

There was fruit and cheese here last night?!

There was fruit and cheese here last night?!

Thanks for the note and the wine.

Thanks for the note and the wine.

All in all, the Westfields Marriott is an even better place for a meeting than in past years. But the staff needs some training and suite 130 needs a new shower. They can make you an espresso in a pinch though, and they’re actually pretty good at it.

Morning at the Marriott.

Morning at the Marriott.

Three showerheads for the Westfields. Run a meeting here, but don’t come here for the sleeping rooms.

What happens when you drive down to the Stick? You have to stay at the crappy Hilton in Wilmington, NC. Um, yay? Here we are again. But we must say that this room 829 is better than the junior suite from years past. Only three of us crammed in here this time.

Nice view on the river side. If you like WWII battleships especially.

Boat.

Boat.

The hamster cage persists at the Hilton. Nice to finance Paris’ nonsense.

Please pick a cage.  They are all the same.  This one is 829.

Please pick a cage. They are all the same. This one is 829.

Two tiny beds.

Two tiny beds.

Please make yourself small and comfortable in this bed.

Please make yourself small and comfortable in this bed.

The other half of the room.

The other half of the room.

Of course the shower is plastic. And the sink is curvy.

Yuck.

Yuck.

Anyway, screw this Hilton and its awfulness. On to the rest of Wilmington (which is a delightful little town for the most part.

First we stopped by Circa 1922 for some average cocktails. They make a mean French 75, but their ice needs work. We made the most watery Corpse Reviver #2 ever and followed that with a drink w/o ice.

French 75
1 oz gin (London dry)
brown sugar cube
.5 oz lemon juice
champagne to top
Mix the first three ingredients and add champagne in a flute. Lemon twist.

Dinner was at the not so cleverly named “The Little Dipper” fondue restaurant. Meh. My parents made way better fondue in the ’70s.

Never fear, though, there is a cover band called the “Breakfast Club.” They played Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” Ah. What more does Wilmington need?

No stars whatsoever for the Hilton. They should burn this place down and start over. But tomorrow is the Stick.

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