Fairmont Hotel

Fairmont Hotel

The venerable Fairmont on Nob Hill has the distinction of having the highest public observation point in San Francisco at the top of its 22 story tower and being the only hotel where all the cable car lines meet. The flags draping its impressive exterior represent the forty nations which gathered at the Fairmont to sign the UN Charter in 1945. (The Israeli flag was added later.) The historic Fairmont, designed by Hearst Castle architect Julia Morgan, has perhaps the most impressive lobby of all the San Francisco hotels. Stunning doesn’t begin to describe the huge expanse of Italian white marble floors, gold Corinthian columns, huge potted palms, and all the Edwardian elegance that the $85 million renovation in 2001 brought to the 1907 structure. (The original building was gutted by fire from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and subsequently rebuilt.)

There are 591 large, luxurious rooms decorated with the same warmth and attention to detail. Pillow-top beds with fine linens on extra-long mattresses, oversized marble baths and flat screen televisions are standard in all guest rooms.

The real curiosity in the grand dame of Nob Hill hotels is the Tonga Restaurant and Hurricane Bar. It’s a wild departure from the studied formality and elegance traditional to the Fairmont. Every thirty minutes in this tropical-themed eatery, an indoor thunderstorm rains down into a pool among the diners. Great for kids but very kitschy for such a grand hotel. It was originally the hotel’s plunge and reworked in the 1940’s to resemble first a South Sea schooner and then the thatched-roof island village that appears today. Food is served “family style” and meant to be shared. (Rumor has it that the long-standing attraction may be closed.) www.tongaroom.com

The Laurel Court, on the other hand, looks like the Titanic dining room sitting under three elaborately decorated domes. The cuisine is Californian and the dining style is casually elegant. If not for dinner, drop in for the daily “Afternoon Tea,” between 2:30 and 4:30, a tradition at the Fairmont since it opened over one hundred years ago.

An interesting fact about the Fairmont is that Tony Bennett first sang his trademark song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” in the Venetian, the hotel’s intimate supper club, in 1962.

Hotel rates start at $259/night. Valet parking is $50/day.

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