Scheduling lunch at a hotel that was about burn to the ground probably sounds like a bad idea.
After the meal, my companion would have been escorted along with the other ladies to the “Fainting Room” where they could loosen their corsets and be able to breathe, free from the clouds of smoke emanating from post-prandial stogies being puffed upon by their men-folk down in the hotel’s Grand Court dining room.
Well, that’s way it would have been at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel, just before the 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed the world’s largest hostelry, erected in 1875.
Today, things are far different.
Holidays at the Palace
While you can get the royal treatment visiting the Palace anytime during the year, the Christmas to New Year holiday season offers some special treats. You can enjoy Holiday Tea, listen to the Paul Scheffert Jazz Trio at the Christmas Day Grand Jazz Buffet Brunch, or celebrate at the New Year’s Eve Dinner in the Pied Piper Bar & Grill or at brunch in the Garden Court on New Year’s Day. (Visit the hotel’s event calendar for details).
But having lunch any day in the Garden Court is a palatial experience this time of year. A Christmas tree reaches for the sky in the center of the dining room. And if you’re on Santa’s “Nice” list, you may be lucky enough to be serenaded by some of his little helpers, as my travel writing colleague, Terry Gardner, and I were last week.
Going On Tour
In the mid-1970’s, I spent a lot of time wining and dining at the elegant Palace. But by the end of the 1980’s, this once grand hotel was looking worn down at the heels. It closed down for two years for an extensive renovation, reopening in 1991. Then it had another make-over in 2002.
While Terry and I were taken on a private tour during our visit last week, you can take a public tour and learn about the history of this renowned hotel, too. San Francisco City Guides leads a free stroll through the Palace most Tuesdays and Saturdays at 10:00 a.m., and Thursday’s at 2:00 p.m. Reservations are not required; just check the tour schedule, and then show up at the right side of main lobby at 2 New Montgomery Street (just south of Market Street)
An optional two course lunch ($25 per person exclusive of tax and gratuity, soft drink included) is offered after the Tuesday/Saturday tours, and before the Thursday tour. During the Christmas-New Year holidays, lunch is in the Pied Piper Bar & Grill; the rest of the year it is served in the Garden Court.
Unlike the tour itself, reservations are essential for the lunch. Call the hotel (not City Guides) at (415) 546-5089 to make your arrangements.
Following the Pied Piper
“The Pied Piper of Hamlin” doesn’t lead the hotel tours. He hangs over the bar that bears his name.
According to the hotel’s Website, when the Palace was rebuilt after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, “Artist Maxfield Parrish met with Frederick Sharon, owner of the almost completed Palace Hotel on April 20, 1909. From Windsor, Vermont, on April 24, 1909, Parrish wrote:
“I will make for the barroom in the Palace Hotel, San Francisco, a painting measuring about 6′ x 16′ for the sum of six thousand dollars to be delivered on the first of November 1909. If you will kindly acknowledge the receipt of this, as far as I am concerned, it will be all the agreement necessary.’ The letter is signed with artistic flourish. Palace advertising currently (2009) places the value of this piece of art at $2,500,000.”
The dark wood paneling in the bar creates a quiet ambiance that entices you in to have one of the hotel’s signature martinis, like the “Mad Men” (fans of the hit television series of that name should dress in 1960’s white shirts and narrow ties and order this one), “The Ralston” (named after one of the hotel’s founders), or “The Charlie Chaplin” (honoring one of the hotel’s famous guests of the past).
If martinis aren’t your favorite beverage, try one of the hotel’s 100th anniversary cocktails like the “Emperor Norton” (one of early San Francisco’s legendary characters), the “Green Goddess” (the hotel’s chef created the famous salad dressing with the same name in 1923), or the “Lady in Red” (drink too many of these and you may see this scarlet-clad feminine ghost floating through the hotel).
The only problem with being a guest at the Palace Hotel is that you might only walk out of the door when you depart for home. It’s soothing atmosphere and amenities may entrap you, preventing you from seeing San Francisco’s famous tourist attractions.
I sat for a long time in a comfortable chair in the hotel’s lobby, content to do nothing before my guided tour. Lunch in the Garden Court was so pleasant that I wanted to just loiter there until dinner.
But, what I might have done if I was bunking in the hotel rather than just coming for the day, is to head up to fitness room to work off the calories I had just consumed, then taken a dip in the glassed- in pool with a stunning view of the nearby skyline through its atrium roof, toast in the adjacent sauna, and then hit the showers before going down to the Piper Piper for a pre-dinner libation.
King (or Queen) For A Day or More
Even if no portraits of royal ancestors hang on the walls in your “castle,” giving yourself a Christmas gift of a day or longer stay at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel will be worth hocking a few of the crown jewels. After all, you only live once, and they don’t call it “The Palace” for nothing.
(For more on visiting The Palace Hotel, read travel writer Terry Gardner’s blog, “Take off with Terry.” The Palace kindly provided us both with a complimentary lunch in the Garden Court. Go to The Palace Hotel.org to learn more about the hotel’s history.)
Tales Told From The Road wishes you a Happy Holiday Season wherever you may be. Be sure to watch our Christmas Holiday Videos.