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A rose

A rose

The Palomar in San Fran is home away from home. Been staying here for years. One of my favorite Kimpton properties in a city I have grown to know well. It is great to be greeted by the door staff and front desk staff who know you by sight.

A fish

A fish

902 is quite literally one step (or story) up from 802. Looks familiar and Palomar-y. Thanks to Christopher Smith for getting everything arranged during a very busy week indeed. This town is packed with geeks.

Welcome to RSA week, with a note, massive hunks of cheese, and fresh flowers

Welcome to RSA week, with a note, massive hunks of cheese, and fresh flowers

We really appreciate the flowers, but we’re gonna have to explain why FTD arrangements don’t work in modern design. Simple lines are always better.

We will be hosting a number of meetings during the RSA week, so it is great to have room to do that.

902 sitting room

902 sitting room

902 sitting

902 sitting

902 bedroom

902 bedroom

And of course there is the usual big giant bathtub and the ’80s parent’s shower. No plastic!

Big ole tub in 902

Big ole tub in 902

The 902 shower is in better shape than 802, but could be upgraded to a glass cube.

The 902 shower is in better shape than 802, but could be upgraded to a glass cube.

RSA week is always intense and long, and having a home away from home to return to (though the respites may be brief) is great. Five showerheads for the Palomar.

Guarded by gorgons

Guarded by gorgons

In other San Fran news, annabell’s is great as usual but is slated to close for renovation soon. This is one of my prime meeting places.

And as always, Cafe Claude is the best place for lunch (French style) in all of San Francisco.

I was lucky enough to visit Dirty Habit three times this week. The first drive by was with some of my friends in the tech press who, lets just say, had a big head start on cocktail hour. Raul Ayala served up an invention of his called the Date in India:
1.5 Herradora Blanco
.5 lime
.5 luxardo
.75 spicy tamarind puree (hmmm)
.25 all spice dram
This is shaken and then strained over the rocks. The coup de grace is a dehydrated orange slice liberally spiced with paprika, cayenne, and sugar floated on top.

Congrats to Raul for placing a nicely designed beverage on the list at one of the best bars on earth! We returned late night with a group of 40 or so after a dinner at Perbacco. The bar kindly accommodated our group. Excellent bourbon and some more Dates in India.

Also spent a bit of time at BDK, a new Kimpton bar and restaurant on Geary. The bar is good but a bit noisy and open for my taste. It feels just a bit too much like a meat market. Had some nice cocktails that could have used a bit more attention to measurement detail.

I returned late night one night by myself to see Mr. Brian Means himself. It’s always a pleasure to sample his delicious masterful cocktails. The bar was busy at crunch time, but everyone backbar (raul, crystal, and brian) took time out to chat and hang out. Such a pleasure.

Thursday madness approaches. Fasten your seatbelts.

Stop three in the college and the arts tour was UC Santa Cruz, followed by a drive up 17, through silicon valley on 101, to San Francisco. The arts was an especially magical set of Beethoven Quartets played by the Elias String Quartet.

Which means we went from coastal nature to the city and all of its culture.

Live oak: UC Santa Cruz

Live oak: UC Santa Cruz

The Pacific: UC Santa Cruz

The Pacific: UC Santa Cruz

We arrived at the Palomar in a flurry around 4ish. They were more than ready with a classic welcome. So nice to return to such a great Kimpton property where we know them and they know us. We were assigned 802, a beautiful suite with substantial room to hang out and no plastic shower.

Fresh flowers in 802

Fresh flowers in 802

Walter the fish was present (hey Hilton, look, the fishy is real).

Hi Walter...blooop...blp...

Hi Walter…blooop…blp…

802 SF Palomar

802 SF Palomar

802 SF Palomr: this folds out to a bed

802 SF Palomr: this folds out to a bed

The unused big giant bathtub

The unused big giant bathtub

A reasonable shower

A reasonable shower

There was not much time to decompress before we were due for a pre-concert dinner at SPQR. Dinner was interesting, quirky, and delicious. Of particular note, the dessert was fantastic all around.

Then Beethoven.

A nightcap at dirty habit sealed the evening (though we really missed having Mr Means around). Brian, there is substitute for the real you!

The lesson in the “Palomar delta” between LA and SF is personal connection. People make all of the difference in the hospitality business. Thanks Christopher Smith for making it happen properly on this quick hit. See you in 20 days for a longer stay!

More than five showerheads for the Palomar in San Francisco, one of my few homes away from home.

UC Berkeley Massive Group Tour

UC Berkeley Massive Group Tour

It's college and the arts! Get ready for this.

It’s college and the arts! Get ready for this.

UC Berkeley Fossil Collection on High

UC Berkeley Fossil Collection on High

Bear in the Sky: UC Berkeley

Bear in the Sky: UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley: Massive Group Tour ][+

UC Berkeley: Massive Group Tour ][+

Next up, Colorado.

When properly motivated, NPS is about as loyal a traveller you could get. Note that this behavior is less motivated by rewards than it is by habit. NPS knows what it likes in a service company and it knows where to go to get it (and where to avoid going to not get it…hah parse that). Once we find what we like at NPS, we go over and over again back to the well.

But when things go south in a loyalty relationship, NPS does not shy from corrective action. Just trawl the United airline entries here and see what we mean. After 1,590,963 miles on United (ten years as a 100K flyer), Jeff Smisek’s terrible operational leadership finally squandered and squeezed every iota of loyalty out of NPS. So what did we do? We pledged to fly any other airline possible in 2015. And we’re doing it (thanks Virgin America! Jet Blue! Delta! American!). For the record, Virgin America seems a bit surprised by just what a business traveller firehose of cash looks like!

NPS is run by capitalists—the kind of capitalists who remember who has the money, who is paying for the service, and how capitalism is supposed to work. Woe to the business that forgets this, because at NPS we mostly vote with our hard cash (oh and we tweet sometimes too).

Loyalty programs are a nice perquisite of abundant travel, but as mentioned above, NPS never choses a hotel chain, airline, or rental car organization for its loyalty program. Accumulating frequent whatever status is just a side effect of habit.

Given all this, it is high irony indeed when a theoretical “reward” associated with a loyalty program screws things up in a loyalty relationship. Consider Hertz. NPS chooses to rent only from Hertz because price differential in rental cars is completely arbitrary and, most important of all, remembering which flavor of car you have rented takes cycles we don’t have to spare. If we have a rental car reserved for a trip, we don’t want to dig around in our stuff trying to remember which company it is. So it’s Hertz for NPS.

A side effect of always renting Hertz is membership in the super gold plus “presidential circle” which as far as we can tell is utterly meaningless, oh, and accidental accumulation of points. Recently NPS looked into the points reward thing to get a bunch of cars lined up for the #collegeandthearts tour. Multiple free cars on multiple legs is great and makes us feel good! But wait, you wanted a convertible to take one way from LA to San Fran up the Pacific coast with your son? Well that will cost you more! You see your “free” reward involves a generic car type that you don’t rent by default. Talk about squandering loyalty capital, Hertz did it in spades! To make $300 in short term revenue Hertz chose to made NPS unhappy, crumpled up all the loyalty and threw it in the trash can by the door. That tradeoff is just ridiculous if you think about it. So, yes, NPS will spend the $300 bucks, but we may also switch our business cash spending hose to Avis.

Instead of “stickiness” the Hertz loyalty reward has led to brand “slipperiness.” FAIL.

What prompted this tirade was some Kimpton behavior that NPS does not approve of involving its loyalty program. Read the entries here and you will see that Kimpton has NPS right where it wants us. We love Kimpton. If we are in a city with a Kimpton, we thank our lucky stars and stay there. But do we do it for the inner circle status or the rewards? Nope. We do it because we abhor plastic showers, terrible hamster cage room design, and Disney-world-Walmart-shooper consumers (in precisely that order). Plus over the years we have come to know many Kimpton GMs and executives and we are pleased to count them as friends (I’m talking to you Joe Capalbo, Steph Vogel, Jacques Bezuidenhout, Brian Means, Chris Smith, Matt Hurlburt, and Mike DeFrino! You guys rock.)

In fact, back when the Kimpton loyalty program first started, NPS provided lots of advice to the setter uppers, most of which was operationalized. A compliment/complaint to Mike DeFrino long long ago regarding training 14 properties about NPS habits one at a time (and its relationship to arbitrary leadership from different GMs) was met with a fantastic solution. NPS was inner circle back before there was such a thing, and watching Kimpton build such a strong chain and associated brand has been a joy.

Then there is the rewards system, which should be icing on the cake, but somehow misses the mark. Just for the sake of repetition, we stay at Kimpton to see our friends and avoid plastic showers. So when we get a reward night at a new property what would we expect? Certainly not a plastic shower. NPS is not in it for the free night, heck, we have plenty of money. We’re in it for other reasons. A generic rewards program that ignores that fact does so at its peril. Give us a free room with a plastic shower and watch us become upset.

A quick aside on social media is worth a few words. Part of Kimpton’s brand strength comes from decent use of social media. But Kimpton needs to make sure to engage just as well with the hard lessons of dissatisfaction as they do with happy happy back slapping bonhomie of people who don’t travel much. NPS will aim its pea shooter in whatever direction it pleases and hopefully make the world a better place for spoiled travelers in some way. Better pay attention!

What does NPS do when unhappy? Is this all about social media and rampant complaining? No not really. NPS votes with cash when push comes to shove. So brand managers, here is a lesson for you: do NOT let your rewards system squander so much loyalty capital that you cut yourself off from the cash flow river.

The good news is Kimpton has a store of plenty of loyalty left in the lake, so there is no danger of NPS jumping ship anytime soon.

OK enough of that. Dismount.

Now on to College and the Arts hotel number 2, the Palomar in LA that got all this thinking started. NPS has sent spies here, but we have never been here ourselves. Usually, a first visit to a new property is a joy. This time, not so much.

Do tell, we hear you saying…

Wine hour in the packed lobby

Wine hour in the packed lobby

We arrived from the arts part of the day (at the LACMA) right at wine hour. Optimal! Free wine is a great Kimpton perq. The lobby was abuzz and there was even a DJ and a long line to check in.

At the front desk they told us we had been “upgraded” to a special room. But if room 1020 is superior, this property needs some work. You see, we have stayed at many a Palomar over the years and we expect way better than a gussied up hamster cage with a plastic shower. Yes, Kimpton, you have created a monster. Please just do your homework before we get there.

1020 at the Palomar Los Angeles is supposedly an upgrade?!

1020 at the Palomar Los Angeles is supposedly an upgrade?!

Anyway, our reaction to 1020 is “this sucks,” which frankly is not the reaction Kimpton is probably looking for what they dole out a loyalty reward?!

A plastic shower at Kimpton's Palomar in Los Angeles

A plastic shower at Kimpton’s Palomar in Los Angeles

As NPS readers know, we spend endless hours avoiding plastic showers. The worst variety is the kind with the bent out obesity-friendly shower curtain bar designed for Walmart shoppers. Here’s a picture of what we can’t stand.

PLASTIC SHOWER. Look at that light shine off the curtain.

PLASTIC SHOWER. Look at that light shine off the curtain.

So we called down and let the front desk know about the plastic shower thing. They were stymied because all of the glass showercube rooms were taken. BUT I MADE THIS RESERVATION MONTHS AGO IN 2014!!! Here’s the deal with loyalty. Track us all you want, but read the dang computer file and do some planning. Assign someone to read the blogs of inner circle people before they show up at your property and see what makes them tick. Free? Not us. Glass shower? That would be it.

We did say when we called down and had a chat about the room that they would hear about it. And so we took to the twitterz where we were met with cricket chirps and resounding silence from the crack Kimpton social media team who seems to have been on break for 14 hours. That meant we needed to find the GM, which we are doing in a different thread.

We’re looking forward to a chat with Rob Hannigan who has been ultra responsive so far. NPS is confident that things will resolve nicely because Kimpton is about the best there is.

Oh, and the water was still. So we went and bought some San Pellegrino ourselves when we joined friends in Topanga for dinner.

A Kimpton all time low two showerheads and an upbraiding for the Palomar in Los Angeles on this trip. You can do better Kimpton.

1020 a room with a view (and a plastic shower) at Palomar LA

1020 a room with a view (and a plastic shower) at Palomar LA

The best part of the Palomar Hotel in San Francisco is the masterful bartending of Brian Means at Dirty Habit. Always learn something every time. Thanks Brian. (For you twitter people, see @myamericandram.)

Tonight it was a curry bourbon cocktail on the savory side that was just fantastic. Then a punch. We’ll call it On the Fly:
6 oz pierre ferrand 1840 cognac
6 oz citadelle gin
4 oz pierre ferrand dry curaƧao
4 oz lemon juice
4 oz pomelo cordial (pomelo, sugar, jasmine tea)
12 oz prosecco
create. top with shaved cinnamon and black cardamon plus orange slices.

And there was Hirsch 20. Holy cow.

1019561

Special thanks to Christopher Smith for finagling a table during a busy time.

We arrived in San Francisco on a rainy day, delayed three hours so that rush hour was in full swing. 101 was a parking lot. Blerg!

Fresh flowers in room 902

Fresh flowers in room 902

But then we arrived at the Palomar. Palpable relief! Ah. The new lobby is done and it is gorgeous. The front staff had been briefed and greeted us by name. It was all like getting home out of the rain. Chris Smith is running a tight ship.

Sadly, it was all so exciting and rainy that my Bose headphone set never made it out of the back of the cab. But never fear, Bryan was all over it and fixed the problem by magic behind the scenes. Fantastic. Thanks Bryan.

Headphones found

Headphones found

Room 902 is great. Nice roomy space with no plastic in sight in the bathroom. We were greeted with a personal note, fresh flowers (!), and some cheese. Thank you Sara.

Welcome to 902

Welcome to 902

902 sitting room

902 sitting room

902 bedroom

902 bedroom

902 bathroom

902 bathroom

This shower is not plastic

This shower is not plastic

Not only were the fresh flowers special. The standard Kimpton special touches were also around.

Kimpton special touch (Walter and Not Walter)

Kimpton special touch (Walter and Not Walter)

Special touch 2: power stations on bedside table

Special touch 2: power stations on bedside table

In other SF news, the Crustacean restaurant is OK. Over-rated, but decent. On the other hand, hard water has one of the best “weaponized grain” storage facilities in all of SF. We had flights of Pappy, we had Hirsch 16, we had many antique collection bourbons. Just wow. Our server Erin Rose was knowledgeable and really fun.

Erin from hard water with a bottle of Hirsch 16 (1974)

Erin from hard water with a bottle of Hirsch 16 (1974)

Not to be outdone, master barman Brian Means of Dirty Habit had a custom cocktail created and sent up to the room while we were out doing our job. Awesome way to wind down after a conference day.

Without further ado, the B-String:
1.5 oz Pierre Ferronal Cognac
.75 oz East India Sherry
.5 oz Banana liqueur
2 dashes All Spice Bitters

Properly warmed up by the pre-game show, we headed downstairs for dinner and lots of great cocktails at Dirty Habit. Cool new space. Excellent cocktails as always. Mr. Means is still on the sherry roll. Good thing the room was only upstairs!

We even had some of this.  Whatever it is!

We even had some of this. Whatever it is!

Thursday night fun was spearheaded by Jacques Bezuidenhout and joined by a motley crew of affiliated pranksters. We started with a trip to the Anchor Steam brewery christmas party. The anchor steam people also have a distillery with an upstairs patio bar. Lots of great rums including the Blue Penny brand and No 3 gin. Cocktail people are really fun to party with.

Blue Penny rum (batch 1 and batch 2)

Blue Penny rum (batch 1 and batch 2)

Jacques stepped into his natural element behind the bar and crafted a gin and tonic after the extensive rum tasting.

Jacques makes a G&T

Jacques makes a G&T

Rosemary

Rosemary

Then it was off to Tommy’s for a late rendez-vous with the dinner crew. Tommy’s is just fantastic. Warm, friendly, tequia, what more do you want? We were briefly joined by AT from Partida.

Dinner a deserted Aziza was very good indeed. We had the place mostly to ourselves. Food was great.

Then a dive bar for Fernet and a bleary-eyed walk across the street to have a last Liberal. Somehow we misplaced an unused Friday completely.

Five showerheads and an alcohol-soaked cleaning rag for this trip to the SF Palomar. Fantastic.

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

Brian Means, the masterful head barkeep at Dirty Habits is incredibly great. I was lucky enough to get one of his experiments. Wow.

Experiment Three
2 oz Henry McKesson 10yr bourbon
.75 oz byrrh
.75 montenegro
2 dashes reagans orange bitters
This one will go into the book.

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). Excellent Italian at Perbacco though it is still too noisy in there.

I’m back at the Palomar in San Francisco where I spent some time being spoiled in February. Fantastic as always.

It seems as if I am the “victim” of some kind of colosal contest between the Chicago Palomar and the San Francisco Palomar. It’s tit for tat. Chicago started it with this year’s first visit. And Chicago had the previous move just recently as well. I could not be luckier to be stuck in this battle of the titans!

I was greeted with flowers.

Palmoar San Francisco ups the Ante with Flowers

Palmoar San Francisco ups the Ante with Flowers

And a charcuterie plate that is simply outstanding. (Too bad it was sushi night at ozumo last night.)

Welcome package with sparkling water, wine, and a delicious charcuterie selection.

Welcome package with sparkling water, wine, and a delicious charcuterie selection.

Wow.  Fifth floor does its thing.

Wow. Fifth floor does its thing.

The only thing seemingly missing is a cocktail invented just for the occasion. What, is Chicago pulling ahead? Surely not. (They don’t call me maestro for one thing.)

Room 802 is a well appointed suite.

Couch land,

Couch land,

Bed land.

Bed land.

Bathroom land.

Bathroom land.

The shower in 802 is not as cool as some showers at the Palomar in San Francisco, but it passes the noplasticshowers tests with flying colors.

This shower is not plastic.

This shower is not plastic.

Thanks to Kelsey Barthe and the entire staff for making me feel welcome. This is a great base of operations for the next few days. Too bad about the breakfast meeting in Sunnyvale!!


Good news, the Sunnyvale run is cancelled. Better news, the battle has been joined!

Day2 = Greenpoint (just to make jS green with envy)

Day2 = Greenpoint (just to make jS green with envy)

And the associated note.

And the associated note.

Just for the record, the Greenpoint is a delicious and well known concoction. Muchas gracias.

Now off to Perbacco for dinner. Perbacco remains serviceable and a nice place for a business dinner (get a table upstairs to avoid the noise).

Wandered into the Fifth Floor bar for a late nightcap with Matias after just a bit of wine and grappa at Perbacco (Rajiv brought in two bottles from his cellar to complement the Italian-heavy house list). Fifth floor was hopping for a Wednesday, but never really gets overly crowded from what I can tell. The service was attentive and fun (sometimes overly attentive, with some missed handoffs between servers, barkeeps, and filler inners who came to the party late).

Sadly, head barman Brian Means was off. (Everyone deserves a day off now and then.) We were served by his protege Sarah, who has some big shoes to fill when Brian is not in the building. Sarah is very good indeed. We had some very good cocktails, but nothing deserving particular note.

Upon a second visit, we tried out a number of the drinks on the bar menu (along with some “oysters five ways” from the restaurant menu). The list includes some superb and interesting drinks. There was no time to get the recipes as we had to head out to Saha for dinner. Sarah was kind enough to make us a house favorite Boris Karloff:
.75 gin
.75 St Germaine (eiderflower)
1 t confectioners sugar
1 egg white
shake, strain
grated lime zest and black pepper as a garnish on the (now) beaten egg white

I really shouldn’t admit it here, but the bar at Sable in Chicago is better than the bar at the Fifth Floor. Better space and a deeper staff. That may well even the score in the battle of the Palomars. In final analysis, both bars are absolutely top notch for hotel-associated enterprises. It is rare indeed to find any hotel that blows out all the noplasticshowers criteria, and both Palomars in the battle do. Hopefully they will spawn.

Five showerheads for San Francisco Palomar. Love it.