Tried & Tested

Hotel check: Clift San Francisco

3 Aug 2009 by Mark Caswell

BACKGROUND The Clift opened in 1913 and is one of the oldest hotels in San Francisco. In 1996 it was acquired by Morgans Hotel Group, and after extensive renovations and refurbishments, it reopened in 2001. Morgans has 11 other US properties, as well as St Martins Lane hotel in London.

WHAT’S IT LIKE? From the outside, this 17-floor hotel blends in with the other sizeable buildings in the neighbourhood, but step inside and you will immediately see that the Clift aims to make a statement. The dimly lit lobby has a double-height ceiling and Philippe Starck’s footprint is immediately apparent – his fetish for unusual-looking chairs is apparent, with one made from antlers, one from polished bronze, and another standing like a two-metre tall throne. (If you feel the urge, guests are allowed to climb up and sit on it.)

To the right of the lobby is the Living room. Inspired by the idea of the hunting lodge, it offers a quirky interpretation of the taxidermy trophies usually found in such places, with dozens of framed black-and-white photos of toy animals by French artist Jean-Baptiste Mondino.

From the dark, red-lit gloominess of the atmospheric public areas on the ground floor, taking the purple, red and green-tinted lifts up to the bedrooms will give you a completely different experience. The corridors and rooms have lots of natural daylight and feature fresh, light décor – almost neutral, were it not for the splashes of vivid orange and pale lavender. The Clift is a large hotel with a luxurious boutique flavour, and although the trendy Redwood bar draws in plenty of moneyed locals for post-twilight drinking, it also caters well for the corporate traveller.

WHERE IS IT? On the corner of Geary and Taylor in central San Francisco. It’s a five-minute walk to Union Square, Downtown and Tenderloin, and a 20-minute walk to the Embarcadero. San Francisco International airport is about 40 minutes’ drive away. Valet parking is available for US$57 for 24 hours, although there are several garages nearby where you can park for about US$30 a day.

ROOM FACILITIES The bedrooms are also designed by Starck. Standard rooms start from 24 sqm and feature king-size beds, wired and wireless internet access (US$14.95 for 24 hours), iPod docks and 24-hour room service. My Loft King on the eighth floor was light and airy with large windows facing the San Francisco skyline. I was told the colour scheme was intended to reflect the hues of the sky and the buildings outside – ivory, grey, taupe, pale apricot, tangerine and lavender – and they did seem to. It felt warm, yet clean and minimalist.

At each end of the room were floor-to-ceiling mirrors giving the room an added sense of depth. In the living area was a workdesk, freestanding lamp, sofa, an orange Perspex box coffee table, and a Man Ray-inspired “wheelbarrow chair”. Amenities included a flatscreen TV with pay-per-view, a Bose sound dock, Morgans Hotel Group CDs (US$25 to buy – although you can rent them from the CD/DVD library for US$6-12), a couple of bottles of mineral water (one litre was a pricey US$11), and a minibar (a key is provided at check-in) with an added drawer filled with T-shirts, hangover prevention pills, maps of the city, “intimacy kits”, a scented candle, snacks and sweets (all for a charge). The bathroom had a sunken bath/shower and Clift-branded toiletries.

Although the room was very pleasant, there were one or two annoyances – the wireless internet connection was pretty poor, so I had to keep moving around the room to get a better signal. Also, the walls were very thin – I could hear the guest in the next room talking on the phone. Welcome additions were the separate dressing area next to the bathroom, and the firm king-size bed with marshmallow pillows.

RESTAURANTS AND BARS The art deco Redwood room (open Sun-Thu 5pm-2am, Fri-Sat 4pm-2am) on the ground floor was originally built in 1933, and the walls, ceiling and bar are panelled entirely with polished redwood, supposedly all from one tree. Above the bar is a delicate frieze depicting animals in the forest, which has been carefully restored. In a bid to modernise the venue, the hotel installed a series of digital portraits of men and women on the walls – if you watch carefully, from time to time their eyes and posture change.

Compared with the bedrooms, the bar is also dimly lit, with most of the light coming from behind the counter, where the bottles stand on glass shelves in front of a wall illuminated yellow. The venue offers an inventive cocktail menu concocted by mixology-trained staff. Try the Redwood room martini served straight up with a blue cheese-stuffed olive, or a bacon Manhattan made with Bulleit bourbon infused with apple wood-smoked bacon, maple syrup and lemon bitters.  

Next door is Asia de Cuba, the hotel’s on-site restaurant, which is open for breakfast (7am-11.30am), lunch (11.30am-2.30pm) and dinner (Sun-Wed 5.30pm-10.30pm, Thu-Sat 5.30pm-12.30am). The venue has a similar feel to the Redwood room, with high ceilings and rich furnishings, but instead of wooden panelling the walls are draped in bronze-coloured silk. There is a sumptuous breakfast buffet (US$15 for continental, US$25 for a hot meal), but the place seemed a little too dark to start the day in – it’s better in the evening, when you can experience Asian-Latin cuisine sitting at a long communal table made entirely from hand-etched Venetian mirror.  

BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES The hotel caters well for events, with eight venues to choose from. The Spanish suite, with its east and west terraces, was once the private home of the late Frederick Clift and has a capacity for 175 people reception-style. The two boardrooms can seat eight to 12 for a conference. In keeping with the rest of the hotel, these meeting facilities have all been reinvented by Starck, so expect something a little different to conventional facilities. The 24-hour business centre on the mezzanine floor has three PCs, free internet access and a printer where you can print boarding passes free of charge.

LEISURE FACILITIES On the second floor is a 24-hour fitness centre with free weights, cold showers, yoga mats and a range of Life Fitness machines. There is no swimming pool but guests can buy a US$20 day pass for the pool at Club One on Mason and Post Street, two blocks away.

VERDICT A trendy reinvention of a classic San Francisco property. It is obvious that a lot of money has been spent on bringing it up to date. The Clift is in an excellent location and has a good range of Philippe Starck-designed meeting rooms.


HOW MANY ROOMS? There are 372 rooms and suites in 11 categories, including 26 Lift Kings, 112 Standard Kings, 45 Deluxe Kings, 62 Superior Kings and 47 Studio Junior suites. The apartment on the top floor has a terrace and stunning views, and can be booked for meetings and events or for private stays.

ROOM HIGHLIGHTS The quirky, well-stocked minibar, the dressing area and the fresh contemporary design.

PRICE Internet rates for a midweek stay in August started from US$333 for a Standard room.

CONTACT Clift San Francisco, Geary Street 495; tel +1 415 775 4700;

Jenny Southan

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