SAN FRANCISCO -- At the intersection of Sutter and Kearny streets , a busy crossroads of this city's neighborhoods -- the downtown Financial District, the shopping milieu of Union Square, and Chinatown -- a historic Art Nouveau hotel has quietly gotten a $7.1-million facelift .
Originally built in 1911 as the Sutter Hotel, the Galleria Park has an unassuming marble facade; despite a striped awning lighted by theater-style marquee bulbs, it's a place I've often walked right past, tucked as it is between a nondescript glass-windowed lunch counter and the popular American-fare Perry's bar and steakhouse.
As I found on a recent stay, the upgrade by Joie de Vivre Hospitality is in the details, evident once you come through the lobby doors: the original white-leaf Dorothy Draper mirror, a pair of Duncan Phyfe chairs, meticulously restored lead-crystal skylights. Design touches run through an eclectic combination of periods, movements, and styles; Lucite side tables sit alongside Murano glass wall sconces, and a gleaming, intricately cast Art Deco fireplace is set off with a black-and-white checkerboard vase.
The effect is colorful but comfortable, since cushy couches are numerous and centrally placed, and breakables -- bright blue and green hand-blown Italian glass vases, for example -- are out of reach behind the reception desk. (Important, since at 5:30 every afternoon, a complimentary wine hour is a big hit with guests.)
Downtown is a high-rent area, so I was pleased to find plenty of perks included in the affordable room price (rates begin at $139 through a special introductory period, so be sure to check with reservations). In the 177 rooms, pillowtop mattresses, Frette linens , towels, and bathrobes, Aveda bath products, free high-speed Internet, and ergonomic desk chairs help ease the pain of cramped quarters. Quaint fixtures of the early 20th-century building -- a sink outside the bathroom, guest rooms of all different sizes and configurations, thin glass windows -- were not eliminated in the renovation. Given the hotel's central location, you should request a room off the street, or you may hear sirens in the night and buses rumbling by.
As in the personality-rich lobby, dramatic silvery curtains, pale greens, aqua blues, and vintage furniture dress up the guest rooms. The artwork for the property was curated by Rob Delamater and Gaétan Caron , owners of San Francisco's Lost Art Salon . The gallery often acquires modern art pieces from estate sales, private collections, and auctions; for the Galleria Park, the duo chose intimate, 1930s-era line drawings of Adele de Izcue done by her husband, California artist Clyde Follett Seavey . The sketches lend a softening, feminine feel throughout the interior of the property.
On the second floor are the hotel's business center, meeting rooms, and fitness studio. The gym is tiny, with the standard stock of treadmill, elliptical, and weights for those who want to squeeze in a workout. More ambitious guests can request discounted day passes to a nearby outpost of 24-Hour Fitness . But the Galleria Park's most unusual and noteworthy offering might be its third-floor rooftop terrace and walking track. Essentially a private, open-air urban park, complete with benches, trees, and wooden pergolas climbing with vines, the space is a welcome oasis. The hotel is planning to launch complimentary tai chi and Pilates classes on the roof deck this summer.
One of the best things about San Francisco is that it's a year-round walking city, and the property's central location lets you plot just about any course. Walk around the corner and up Kearny Street, and you hit Chinatown; the shops of Union Square are three blocks away. Across Market Street are the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the recently opened Museum of the African Diaspora .
The hotel doesn't have its own restaurant, but it is connected on the mezzanine level to Perry's (an open door at midday allowed the dull roar of the lunch crowd to filter into the lobby). But unless you're into greasy burgers and a noisy bar scene, it's worth a 10-minute stroll to go to the renowned Ferry Building Marketplace. Situated on the Embarcadero with views of the Bay Bridge, the Ferry Building houses specialty grocers, restaurants, and shops that define Northern California with fresh, bright flavors and incredible produce. On weekdays, a smattering of outdoor food vendors greets patrons at the front of the building; on weekends, the outdoor offerings expand mightily to cover the entire side and rear of the marketplace.
Fresh oysters, seasonal fruit, hot handmade tamales, pulled-pork sandwiches, organic chocolate macaroons, local wines -- it's easy for foodies to go hog-wild here, but it's also possible to get a satisfying taste of San Francisco for under $10 (try the savory bento boxes at Delica , a sleek Japanese delicatessen located inside).
The original Beaux-Arts-style Ferry Building opened in 1898, when ferryboats were the only way to get to San Francisco from the north and east, and the terminals still serve 11,000 commuters every day. The building's 2003 restoration and reinvention as a public food market have given it new life in a modern city, with an eye to historic detail. Fans of the Galleria Park's similar new aesthetic will want to pay a visit.
Bonnie Tsui, a freelance writer in Cali fornia, can be reached at bonnietsui.com.