San Francisco has some wonderful hotels, and Fairmont San Francisco (950 Mason St, San Francisco. Tel: 415-772-5000. www.fairmont.com/sanfrancisco) is considered one of the best, by consistently providing an impeccable level of service.
William May, whose nickname is ‘The Gatekeeper,’ is the perfect representative of the level of service provided by Fairmont San Francisco. “When I was hired 33 years ago, I was told being a doorman is not just being a doorman. You are an ambassador to the city, and that Fairmont is a community of all cultures. The doorman position is a crossroads to everything. We’re used to giving a level of service where we connect on an emotional level, making guests feel at home.”
His passion for the city, the hotel, and his position, comes through as he talks about past guests, places to visit in San Francisco, and much more.
Can you mention any notable guests?
We’ve had every single US president since 1907! Every famous person you may know that stayed in San Francisco, probably stayed here. The first well-known person I met was Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Justice of the Supreme Court. We have a new Mayor of San Francisco and she has also stayed here, as did our new Fire Chief, who is a woman from the LGBTQ community. We also have a lot of people who have a legacy here that spans generations. There was a lady who got married here in 1926 and her son later got married here in 1982. It’s amazing!
Where is the coolest place for cocktails in San Francisco?
If you don’t want to go too far from your room, there is the Tonga Room (www.tongaroom.com) right here at the hotel. The Tonga Room is an iconic San Francisco institution all set in a unique tiki style tropical setting. The late Anthony Bourdain, in an episode of The Layover, once declared, “If you have no love in your heart for this place, you are a sick, twisted, lonely f*ck with too many cats”… Yes, it’s that good! And be sure to try the Mai Tai, regularly recognized as one of the city’s best! The Tonga room has been here for 75 years and it is inspired by the island of Tonga. In fact, the Queen of Tonga has been to our Tonga Room.
What are the best restaurants for a romantic dinner in the city?
That is a tricky one. I would say, stay in the Penthouse Suite at the Fairmont San Francisco and have a private chef come in! But there are a lot of wonderful places. One of my favorite is the North Beach Restaurant (1512 Stockton St. Tel: 415-392-1700. www.northbeachrestaurant.com). That is a real San Francisco restaurant, and was San Francisco’s first Italian restaurant renowned for its authentic Tuscan cuisine. It’s really unique too. It has different rooms you can dine in. There is the main dining room, the prosciutto room, the cigar room, and the wine cellar. I send people there all the time. There is also La Folie (2316 Polk St. Tel: 415-776-5577. www.lafolie.com). They serve contemporary French cuisine and it is one of the city’s top 10 restaurants. It’s a family run restaurant with a very elegant atmosphere. The lighting in there is perfect for romantic dinners.
Who serves the greatest weekend brunch in town?
There are a few great places. The Top of the Mark (999 California St. 19th Floor. Tel: 415-392-3434. www.topofthemark.com) is one of them. It’s been there since 1939 and it offers breathtaking views of the city. It’s the place to go for Sunday brunch. The Saratoga (1000 Larkin St. Tel: 415-932-6464. www.thesaratogasf.com) is one we recommend for their brunch cocktails. It’s a two-story cocktail bar and restaurant in the historic Tenderloin district. And there is also Brenda’s French Soul Food (652 Polk St. Tel: 415-345-8100. www.frenchsoulfood.com), which serves a personal style of cooking, mixing Southern, Creole, and French cuisines. The food is really great. It has a casual and relaxing atmosphere that makes you feel at home.
What are the hottest shows in town, and how do I get tickets?
I would say Beach Blanket Babylon (678 Beach Blanket Babylon Boulevard. Tel: 415-421-4222. www.beachblanketbabylon.com), the world’s longest running musical revue. It is closing after 45 years later this year in December, so check it out soon if you are in town looking for a fun night out! Another popular show with our guest is Hamilton, at the Orpheum Theatre (1192 Market St. Tel: 888-746-1799. www.shnsf.com). The theatre has been there since 1926 and it’s a great place to visit. The French Gothic and contemporary architecture is amazing. Tickets are available online for both, but we are more than happy to help you get great tickets through our concierge team.
What are the must see San Francisco attractions that you recommend to visiting guests?
We have a lot of amazing attractions. There is Grace Cathedral (1100 California St. Tel: 415-749-6300. www.gracecathedral.org) across the street, which is modeled after Notre Dame in Paris. They have a replica of the door of Florence there. It’s beautiful. Right after they had the fire in Notre Dame, they had an organist from Notre Dame, Paris, play at Grace Cathedral. There were people standing in line around the block to get in. The organist was actually one of our guests.
Another must-see is the Golden Gate Bridge. You can go on an hour long Golden Gate Bay Cruise, leaving from Fisherman’s Wharf. The cruise takes you along the North Beach shoreline. You can also go biking across the bridge.
I also recommend Haight-Ashbury, which is very interesting. It’s somewhat old but contemporary too. It’s a great place to buy t-shirts, and it’s only 3 miles from here. There is also Union Street, and there is this store called Nancy Boy (347 Hayes St. Tel: 415-552-3636. www.nancyboy.com). They sell natural bath and body products, and essential oils. It’s a great shop. You should check it out.
And of course, you can’t come to San Francisco and not ride a cable car. Afterwards, you can even check out the Cable Car Museum (1201 Mason St. Tel: 415-474-1887. www.cablecarmuseum.org). It’s a free museum in the Nob Hill neighborhood and they have antique cars on display that date back to the 1870s!
What annual events should we add to our “must see” list?
That is a tough one. There are so many great events year round. I guess if I had to narrow it down, I would say the Chinese New Year’s Parade in Chinatown (chineseparade.com), which is right around the corner from us. There is also the Folsom Street Fair in the Fall (www.folsomstreetevents.org/folsom-street-fair), which is a large leather and fetish event. I think the largest in the world. There is the San Francisco Pride (www.sfpride.org) in June, which is one of the largest Pride events. We have over 200 parades! You also can’t miss the Carnaval San Francisco Festival and Grand Parade (www.carnavalsanfrancisco.org/festival). The Festival just celebrated its 41st anniversary this past May. That is a great way to check out global cuisines, music, dance, arts, and a whole lot more.
Where are the best places to workout?
Walking the hills of San Francisco is a workout on its own, but if you are looking for a gym there is the LiveFit Gym and Wellness Spa right here at Fairmont on the Terrace level. Access to the gym is included with your stay. They also offer yoga and other classes. Another option is to check out StudioMix (1000 Van Ness Ave. Tel: 415-926-6790. www.studiomix.com). They offer a drop-in day pass so that you can access the club for a full day of back-to-back classes led by expert fitness coaches. They also have a functional strength studio, and traditional cardio equipment.
If someone is looking for a full-service spa, where do you send them?
I often refer guests the Nob Hill Spa (1075 California St. Tel: 415-345-2888. www.nobhillspa.com). They offer massages, facials, body treatments…the works. They also have saunas, a steam room, fireplace lounge, and indoor infinity pool, so it’s a great place to relax.
What are the best LGBTQ bars in the city?
BadLands (4121 18th St. Tel: 415-626-9320. www.sfbadlands.com) and Moby Dick (4049 18th St. Tel: 415-294-0731. www.facebook.com/MobyDickBar). They are both in the Castro area, so you can probably even barhop between the two. BadLands has been around for over two decades and it’s a really popular place for entertainment and dance. It has a friendly atmosphere and great drink specials too. Moby Dick has a laid back atmosphere as well. They also have pool, pinball machines, and video games.
What are the most popular gay dance clubs in the city?
Besides BadLands, there is Oasis (298 11th St. Tel: 415-795-3180. www.sfoasis.com), which also features drag shows, DJs, and dance parties. Oasis is actually known to have the best drag shows. The venue was opened by drag legends Heklina and D’Arcy Drollinger. They have won several titles, including Best Gay Dance Club and Best of the Bay.
Where can someone go at 3 A.M. for a good meal?
Pinecrest Diner (401 Geary St. Tel: 415-885-6407. www.pinecrestdiner.com) and The Grubstake (1525 Pine St. Tel: 415-673-8268. www.sfgrubstake.com) Both are American diners well known for their sense of community. They’re definitely the best places to get a burger at 3 A.M.
What is the iconic tourist souvenir, and where will we find it?
There is a cable car with assorted Ghirardelli chocolates inside. That’s a great one. You see cable cars and San Francisco is the first thing that comes to mind. I think that is the perfect souvenir, and you should be able to find it at any tourist area. Also, I’d say go to Haight-Ashbury and get a great t-shirt with a message. I got my daughter one that said: “I survived Catholic school.”
Please finish the sentence: Don’t leave the city without…
Seeing Fairmont San Francisco, where it all started, and of course, to engage with the doorman and let me welcome you to the great city of San Francisco!