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NPS loves San Francisco, and so did Bill Kimpton.

Morning view from 2007

Morning view from 2007

One super tragic side effect of the IHG buyout of Kimpton was a major defection of San Francisco properties from the chain. There are now two (count ’em two) Kimpton properties in town. There used to be twelve. And the whole thing fell apart over worker’s rights, which given the superior way Kimpton manages its people is terrible and ironic.

You know how we feel about Kimpton on this blog. We’re cheerleaders for the most part. (Oh sure, we get snarky when we have to, but that is how hotels improve.) Sadly, our loyalty is being tested in San Francisco. In fact, it was overtested all week.

The fact that we do have a Kimpton room at all during this week is nice (thanks to Mike Defrino’s major string pulling which we hugely appreciate), but what would be nicer is an upscale property and some adult supervision. There are elements of Kimpton design here at the Sir. D, but more needs doing (especially bathroom-wise). And real management/staff issues are clear after a few days on the property. I miss the SF Palomar. (A couple of visits to Mr Means at Dirty Habit made the pining worse.)

A last minute change in reservations due to rampant bday shenanigans was necessary, and it was not easy. But it got done. I flew into town late.

Check out this beautiful amenity

Check out this beautiful amenity

Having a mystery cocktail (??!) with some fancy fruit and cheese is a nice welcome.

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When you drink this mysterious elixer you may forget about the shower situation

When you drink this mysterious elixer you may forget about the shower situation

And the view at night is very much city in all directions from the 20th on a hill

And the view at night is very much city in all directions from the 20th on a hill

Kimpton style

Kimpton style

Sitting room 2007 suite

Sitting room 2007 suite

2007 has plenty of light and is nicely if not slightly shabbily appointed. All of the tables need to be replaced.

Table for work

Table for work

desk nook

desk nook

The sleeping part of the suite is a standard-issue room with a tiny bathroom that needs some more updating. The old tub is nice. What about a solid glass door on top of that? Nothing gets us quite as riled up here at NPS as a shower curtain! Down with shower curtains!!

This shower. No no no.

This shower. No no no.

Bedroom style

Bedroom style

2007 bed

2007 bed

NPS was already surly from the not-quite-up-to-par ride on Virgin America. We were dehydrated and there was no sparking water—anywhere—in the entire hotel.

For the record, we’re still dehydrated this morning. So we’re talking a very low three shower head situation for Sir D. Which, while average, is a low mark indeed for a Kimpton property. If anything the rating went down instead of up as the week progressed. The difference in management between the Sir D approach and many other properties is like night and day. There is much learning to do here by the staff.

Eventually (thanks to Lauren) the water memo arrived and a case of water appeared. Which was nice. But typical for this property there was no note or joke or apology or anything human from management in the room, just a plastic shrink-wrapped case of water plonked unceremoniously on the beaten up table.

To pile on the management misery, attempts to raise anyone downstairs in the lobby Thursday afternoon were unsuccessful for over an hour. I must have called 5 times with well over 100 collective rings. After corporate/social media read the deriding tweets, a surly front desker called up too late to get the things done that needed doing before it was out for the evening. Excuses won’t do it you guys. Inner circle guest expect better service. And for the record, it is YOUR damn fault you did not answer the phone, not mine.

While we’re complaining, we should also note for the record that the starlight lounge plays bass heavy music late into the evening. If the young ‘un thump bothers you, do not stay on the 20th floor.

So lets review.

Did a guest reserve a car to the airport? Let us know that actually happened.

Did someone call down to the desk from an expensive suite? Answer the damn phone.

There was no sparking water in the hotel one evening? Send someone out to get some NOW. Deliver it.

Did a guest turn 50? Apparently not at this property. Hell, even the restaurants figured this one out.

The final straw for the Sir D in my book is location, which in terms of my standard SF week is too far off the beaten path. I sure hope Kimpton finds an upscale property in SF soon. This one is off the list.

On a lighter and more fun note, here is other useful data about the SF trip, and its many delightful times:

  • Breakfast at Mels’ Diner is always great. Long line today during RSA week.
  • Lunch near the Moscone must always be Fang
  • Need to host an event? NPS recommends Forgery
  • Late night dinner at Bouche
  • Lunch at Cafe Claude is always fantastic (but guard your food)
  • Coffee and conversation go together at Cafe de la presse
  • Annabell’s is no longer, but Keystone is nice
  • Perbacco remains a superior location for getting some business done over lunch
  • Dirty Habit rules and Brian Means is at the top of his cocktail game.
  • Might as well skip the Sip Bar if the Hancock room in the back is occupied.
  • State Bird Provisions is super fantastic.

This just in. The cocktail mystery solved. The drink is La Perla designed by Jacques Bezuidenhout himself
1.5 oz Partida resposado tequila
.75 oz manzanilla Sherry
.75 oz pear liqueur
Stir/ coupe/ lemon peel

The Ten Year Itch by Brian Means
2 oz bourbon (henry mckenna 10 yr – 100 proof)
.5 oz kalani coconut
.5 oz orgeat
.75 lemon
1/2 egg white
dry shake ingredients, then wet shake, strain into coupe, garnish with peychaud’s

And now we close by looking down on the Westin…

Beautiful San Francisco

Beautiful San Francisco

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.

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.

Here at NPS we have a long and storied history with the Hotel Palomar. This is our annual base of operations during the RSA show (with thousands and thousands of computer security types). And every time we do a Silicon Valley swing we try to tack on a night in the city. We even fomented the “Battle of the Palomars” between DC, Chicago and San Francisco! Feels like home.

[If there were some fresh flowers, we would put a picture of that here.]

But as GM Christopher Smith points out, “Seems like you have a knack for swinging by mid renovation or mid conference shift :).” Yup! So sadly I am sequestered in 831 instead of in my more favorite room style (which when I walked by was in a state of disarray with furniture being moved around in circles.) In the beginning, I was assigned 904 which sounded about right, but that room had a plastic shower?! Horrors. The situation was quickly rectified by Justin.

The right kind of shower on 831.

The right kind of shower on 831.

Anyway, there will be no getting lost in this room! But the Internet works and my phone call filled day is going well. About the only other fly in the ointment is a sentence to have dinner in Pleasanton (or Dublin) at McNamara’s Steakhouse. Woe is us.

The room in all of its entirety. 831 Hotel Palomar.

The room in all of its entirety. 831 Hotel Palomar.

831 Hotel Palomar. All hail the door!

831 Hotel Palomar. All hail the door!

About the only thing that will salvage tonight is a stop by for some cocktails with Brian Means at Dirty Habits. Looking forward to that!

Five showerheads with less water pressure than they need to properly operate for the Hotel Palomar this time. We’ll be back.

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.

Meanwhile back at the Palomar, it was a noplasticshowers birthday. Yeah I know, “one day older, and one day closer to death.” Don’t even ask.

A note from Hotel Marlowe (Boston to San Francisco)

A note from Hotel Marlowe (Boston to San Francisco)

Joe Capalbo, GM of the Hotel Marlowe in Cambridge reached all the way across the country to say happy birthday. Awesome.

Cupcakes and prosecco.

Cupcakes and prosecco.