Until recently, if I had wanted a restful getaway, I would not have chosen San Francisco or any big city. Getting away meant heading out of town, usually for a coastal inn. I wanted the leisurely pace and ocean views of Mendocino, Pacific Grove, Carmel, or Big Sur.
Consequently, we didn’t rush to use the gift certificate that my husband’s daughter had given us over a year earlier—a night at the Mark Hopkins. However, each time we talked to her, we could sense her disappointment. A gift hasn’t been received until it’s been used. Finally, we booked in for a November weekend.
Nearly dark when we drove up the circular driveway (we had spent the afternoon at the De Young Museum looking at Hokusai’s prints and woodblocks), the brightly lit lobby offered a warm welcome on a cold night. The doorman opened the passenger door, and my husband turned over our car keys, the last time we needed them for 24 hours.
The bellman carried our two bags inside, and we followed.
I made a quick inspection while my husband checked us in. The Nob Hill Lounge and the Top of the Mark were the only cocktail areas; there were no shops, except a newspaper stand. I couldn’t help making comparisons to the Fairmont’s extensive offerings.
After checking into our room on the 9th floor, greeted by classical music playing on the radio and a lamp already turned on, casting a welcoming glow, we unpacked and returned to the lobby.
I’d always viewed the Mark as the Fairmont’s poorer cousin, the Fairmont having a huge lobby, lots of shops, several restaurants, an outside elevator, and flags from several countries out in front, snapping in the wind. I never would have chosen to stay at the Mark.
I suggested we have a drink at the Fairmont and perhaps dinner, returning to the Mark for dancing later at the recently renovated lounge at the Top.
It didn’t take us long to realize that the Fairmont seems slightly vulgar after the Mark’s quiet elegance, the décor calling attention to itself, marble pillars and facings on the outside having no place there. It’s pretentious.
We quickly walked through the place and gratefully returned to the Mark, delighted to sit in their light and airy, tastefully decorated lobby, sip a glass of Pinot, listen to the woman playing modern jazz in the Nob Hill Lounge, and watch the elegantly dressed people attending a wedding reception in one of the ballrooms. Walls of mirror reflected a massive crystal chandelier, healthy in-door palms, and arriving guests.
Even the least costly wine on the Nob Hill Lounge menu was good, the service attentive. Not feeling like a heavy dinner, later we decided to have supper in the Lounge where we could continue to enjoy the Argentinian piano player and the waiter who had been giving us such good service.
Again we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food and its presentation, and the prices were modest—not overblown. I had Caesar salad, crab cakes, and rolls. Michael had salmon and lentil salad with rolls. It was a perfect choice for a light meal and only cost around $12 each plus our wine.
After, we returned to our room to relax before ascending to the Top, delighted to find a bottle of Perrier chilling in a champagne cooler, apples, and chocolates waiting for us. A welcoming touch.
I hadn’t been to the Top of the Mark for years and remembered the room as being decorated in heavy red velvets and pseudo French colonial style. Now the décor gives a feeling of light and space, not calling attention to itself, featuring the unbeatable view of the San Francisco Bay area.
After paying the $10.00 per person admission fee, my husband slipped the Maitre D’ a five dollar bill, and he immediately ushered us to an empty table, tucking the reserved sign into his breast pocket and bowing.
The view and the music were worth the expense (we quickly figured out that the Maitre D’ puts reserved signs on the tables so he can “sell” them to savvy customers, the only glitch in our weekend). We ordered an excellent Muscat and savored the sophisticated sounds of the dance band, the female singer doing old standards like “Kansas City” as well as newer numbers.
The clientele was mixed ethnically, and all ages were represented. Dress was just as varied, from jeans and tee shirt to suits (in the old days, men had to wear ties or turtle necks). The smooth hardwood dance floor is big enough to strut your stuff and small enough to encourage nuzzling.
No one hustled us for drinks. We could people watch, star gaze, and dance, a lovely end to the day.
The next morning, while relaxing in bed before room service delivered our breakfast, I had more time to look around. The night before I’d delighted in all the dazzling lights I’d seen when I opened the curtains, but now I had a different vista, an excellent view of the Bay, sky, and clouds, lots to feed the imagination.
Though we had a standard room, it was very comfortable, the furnishings imitation French empire, walls covered with a blue/gray textured paper. Even the bathroom was wallpapered.
Room service sent our breakfast promptly, along with The New York Times, served by a gracious older man who was unobtrusive at setting up our table. We’d ordered fruit, croissants, yogurt, and juice. More than enough.
After a leisurely morning, we reluctantly packed our suitcases. Though our stay had been short, we’d given ourselves over to the place, enjoying the prompt, attentive service and general pampering only a first-class inn can provide—and the unpretentious graciousness. As we were leaving, my husband said, “I feel like we’ve been in another country.” I agreed.
P.S. Some of these details may be dated, but the general spirit of the place remains the same.