There is something about grand finance buildings built in the late-19th and early-20th century, later reconverted into luxury hotels, that just brings out the best of architecture. The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco, located in upscale Nob Hill and opened in 1991 following an extensive renovation, is no different.
Perched atop one of the city’s most famous rolling hills, and a short walk (or preferably, a historic, if touristy, tram ride) from downtown, the hotel, with 336 rooms and suites, is housed in a 1909 Neoclassical landmark, formerly the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company’s Pacific Coast headquarters.
In typical Neoclassical style, the columns are enormous, forming geometrically symmetrical perfection, and upon closer inspection, it is clear to see they are carved with very intricate details. The entrance, under a faux-staircase (it actually used to be a staircase) is expectedly grand yet vaguely familiar and welcoming. The lengthy lobby, more contemporary in its colours and décor than its exterior yet still retaining elements of classical design that provides a smooth transition, features plenty of lounging space, and a reception and a concierge desk quietly tucked away into corners. Columns jut out from the ground at strategic places to mark the separate areas of the large lobby. Our welcome to the room included a beautiful chocolate and macaroon arrangement for taste, with a handwritten note.
We were offered a Club Level Guest Room – which, while in style, layout and size (37 square metres or 400 square feet), is similar to the entry-level guest rooms at the hotel, features club level access at the hotel. The room itself is elegant and heavy on beige and warm palettes, and furnished in very high quality, epitomised by the 32-inch high-definition, LCD flat-panel TV. The bed features 400-thread count Frette linens. Depending on the room and floor, there may be an excellent view over the area, or none at all.
If the rooms are nicely furnished if a little bare, no expense is spared with the bathrooms, with twin vanities and separate water closet, a large bath tub with a combined rainforest shower and shower head, all heavily featuring Italian marble. Fragrant Asprey amenities round off a most extravagant bathroom, though we do wish there was space to fit in a separate shower/tub combination.
While I didn’t get to try out the Spa-de-Vie, I did make a quick visit to check it out, and it looked beautifully serene, with several treatment rooms and tiled baths. The hotel gym, which we sampled, is larger than some actual gyms I have been to, and very well maintained.
In addition to the club and the lounge, where both breakfast and afternoon tea are served, Parallel 37, off to the side of the lobby, is one of the city’s most acclaimed restaurants for its creative take on Californian cuisine.
Headed by renowned Chef Michael Rotondo, the restaurant is split into three parts: the main, the Chef’s Table, and the private dining room, with a core menu specialising in produce found near the Bay Area. While we were provided a tour of the restaurant, our biggest regret from our San Francisco trip is probably that we didn’t have a chance to sample Chef Rotondo’s cuisine.
Other nice touches
The Ritz-Carlton Club Lounge serves an assortment of foods throughout the day, starting from breakfast, followed by light snacks, hors d’oeuvres, as well as caviar and wine tasting on select days of the weekend. Avoiding the crowded lobby, the club lounge is a haven of tranquility to enjoy a quiet meal in more peace and privacy. The breakfast spread, though not wide in range and quantity of dishes, is most excellent in quality.
The other benefit of the club lounge is the club-level dedicated concierge who is willing to assist any want or need of yours. Mine came in very handy when I grimaced slightly at their collection of (otherwise excellent) teas, because my favourite blend of ginger was not present when I checked-in. But lo and behold, it was available for breakfast the next day!
Upon finishing our breakfast on the second morning, my companion also commented on the lovely macaroons presented previously in our room, and the hotel gifted us with a freshly baked set (along with some cookies) for our check-out and departure.
Room rates start from USD359 per night, and Club Level Guest Rooms start from USD509 per night, not inclusive of taxes.
The best bit
Despite the high quality furnishings and the jaw-droppingly exquisite façade of the hotel, the club level lounge is worth every penny, and more, for the dedicated extra that they go to.
The final verdict
Although it’s marginally out of the way from downtown, it’s still an easy ride to most places. Its unique location also gives it an advantage as a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city, and the building itself oozes character, that is beautifully complimented by the Ritz-Carlton’s expected level of quality when it comes to the hard product, as well as by the staff.