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Yesterday, I was at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in Union Square for a photo shoot. This hotel is part of the luxury boutique chain called the Kimpton Hotels. The property itself is historical and quite opulent. Upon entry, the stunning grand lobby area also doubles as the bar/lounge area. From this photo you can also see the concierge which is adjacent to the front desk:



The Kimpton Properties are self-proclaimed “luxury boutique” specialists. I thought the service was excellent but the room appointments need some changes to meet the minimum of “luxury” standards in my humble opinion.

My photographer had booked the room for the shoot (scheduled for 11am)  and she called in to double check that our early check-in was confirmed. And it was not. The hotel made a boo-boo. Our queen deluxe would not be ready! Long story short, we ended up in an upgraded junior suite and finally got started at 12:30pm after set-up. The staff handled the mistake very graciously and had offered us several options to remedy the issue. I also noticed all the bell men were very swift, eager and helpful. The male and female employees at this property seem to really like their jobs.


Regarding the luxury standards I’ll start off with the configuration of the room. I understand this is an old building so perhaps the floor plan does not meet modern conveniences. That being said, the space was quite small to be called a suite. It was basically a large room with a loveseat positioned against the wall. The main oddity was that the bathroom was tiny in proportion to the living/sleeping area. It was totally basic with one shower stall. It felt like a closet. No counter space. I had to use the sink corners as counterspace. Tough for ladies. Also the hotel seems quite conservative with the toiletries. Or maybe they are just practicing a “green” philosophy? Who knows. The tiny body lotion bottle looked so lonely standing solo on the bathroom sink! I am used to seeing a variety of little bathroom products on counters at hotel properties that are even categorized as non-luxury. And just another detail – there were no glasses in the bathroom. (I like using a glass to rinse my mouth when I brush my teeth?) Again, this seems like a standard that is met at most hotels. So I had to pull the glasses off of the ice bucket tray. That required a lot of effort. There was also no sight of a mini-bar (refrigerator) or coffee maker. The towels also felt worn and terribly, terribly rough. I won’t go as far as saying they felt like sandpaper but they looked old, tired and bleached out; and they did not feel good on the skin. I’m a petite individual and not only did the bath towels feel terribly rough, they were small. And one last thing, the closet door adjacent to the bathroom had a section of paint stripped off, very obviously. I’m not sure if this is a deferred maintenance issue? For a hotel to claim that it is “boutique” and tag themselves as “luxury travel” when doing a Google search, perhaps the appointments should be improved to meet that expectation. The general feel and aesthetic of the property is “boutique” and quite stylish but the rooms fell short. The service was excellent.

Perhaps there needs to be improvements based on luxury standards but it did turn out to be a good location for my photo shoot. This Kimpton property filled the mold of “classic contemporary.” Most of my wardrobe was black with some red and purple; it complemented the decor in the room quite well. We shot for about four hours and then celebrated the wrap over at Sauce: Belden Place. I had a mixed cocktail with bourbon and utterly divine fried food small plates. Their portobello fries were exquisite! Sauce is a terrific destination for American comfort food at its most stylish and creative in San Francisco.

At the end of the day, I’m not sure I would return as a guest at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. Maybe just to hang out at the lounge area or to dine at Scala which is a wonderful Italian restaurant on-site, or at least accessible through a door in the lobby. I think there are certain expectations that guests have when they book lodging at certain hotels and resorts based on their marketing and advertising. I just expect places to be how they advertise.

The irony is that I’ve always been a fan of the Hilton chain of hotels because they’ve always tempered my expectations: they are a safe, simple and clean standard worldwide and that’s how they present themselves. I don’t have five star expectations, unless I book at their Waldorf Astoria or Conrad brands. Their Conrad in Tokyo is excellent, by the way, although their site near the posh Ginza district may not necessarily be the most convenient location for a tourist. And I’ve never had a bad experience at a Hilton. Ever.

I’ll be back soon with Part II with another story from the photo shoot and thoughts about the Union Square district in San Francisco.