Monthly Archives: June 2010
Posted by epicurienne
Laurel Court at The Fairmount Hotel, San Francisco
When I was but a whippet of a girl, I fell in love with The Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, hoping that one day, when I grew up, I might be lucky enough to stay there. At the time I knew that the hotel location was real. I also knew that it was in San Francisco, but I didn’t realise that this hotel was called The Fairmont because to me it was the St Gregory, the subject of a successful TV series called Hotel based on the 1965 novel by Arthur Hailey.
For anyone who’s read the novel, you’ll know that the original St Gregory was in New Orleans, but when Aaron Spelling produced the series he moved the location to the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. To confuse the issue even more, Canadian Hailey wrote Hotel at another of the Fairmont group: the Royal York in Toronto, and at the Fairmont in San Francisco, the Laurel Court Bar serves a cocktail called the St Gregory, which was created in 1983 to commemorate the commencement of filming for the t.v. series. So, in summary, Hotel was inspired by a hotel in Toronto, set in a hotel in New Orleans and ended up being filmed at a hotel in San Francisco. Got all that? There’ll be a pop quiz later.
In the almost five years (1983-1988) that Hotel graced our screens, I never tired of it. Each episode was peppered with new guest scandals and cons and complaints and missing luggage and lovers’ trysts and business deals being struck and I watched, intrigued, as in spite of all the daily distractions affection still grew between the characters of Peter McDermott, the General Manager (played by James Brolin), and his assistant, the delicious Christine (Connie Sellecca). For me, watching Hotel was like taking an hour-long holiday to San Francisco, in the utmost of style. They’ve recently released the first series on DVD (about time, too) so at last I’ll be able to show Monsieur what first hooked me on staying at The Fairmont now that we’re all grown up.
Rising high above San Francisco, which it observes from its perch on Nob Hill, The Fairmont is the absolute grande-dame of hotels in this city. Developed by a pair of silver mining heiress sisters called Fair, they sold it just a few days before the 1906 earthquake and fire. As buildings toppled throughout the city, still it stood, high on the hill, its lofty location protecting it from the post-quake waves flooding the reclaimed downtown area. Certainly The Fairmont did not go unscathed; when the fire spread to Nob Hill, it suffered from fire and smoke damage, its windows destroyed by the heat. The earthquake’s legacy was also responsible for a certain amount of internal structural damage, but the main body of the building remained rock solid as all around it lay smoking rubble and utter devastation. If the concept of ‘survival of the fittest’ could be applied to buildings, you’d have to say that the Fairmont is at the alpha end of its league.
Exactly one year after the 1906 earthquake, the restored Fairmont opened amidst great festivity with a banquet including 600 pounds of turtle. Since that time, it has survived whatever the various eras have thrown at it, from depression to fading beauty in the frugal times of war, times of regeneration and slumps in tourism. It is the Bay Area base for visiting American Presidents, boasts a penthouse that provides sweeping views of the bay, a two story library and a game room at the rate of $12,500.00 per night and has been the showcase for the handiwork of some of the best architects and designers of its time.
Julia Morgan was the architect and engineer charged with The Fairmont’s restoration following the earthquake of 1906. She was a trailblazer, not just for women in her profession but for the then uncommon use of reinforced concrete in earthquake-zone buildings, strengthening them against earthquakes and employing such methods in her work on The Fairmont. Dorothy Draper, renowned interior designer of the post-war era, also left her mark on the hotel, decorating it in the rich colours of red, black and gold, with the aim of blending Venetian elegance with San Francisco romance. When her newly designed Venetian Room reopened in 1947 as San Francisco’s premium supper club, it attracted the likes of Marlene Dietrich, James Brown and Ella Fitzgerald as headliners, continuing to wow both guests and public with a string of top-flight entertainers for decades to come.
Other random yet impressive facts about the Fairmont include the following:
- The Fairmont’s Garden Room was the venue for the drafting of the Charter for the United Nations in 1945 and the flags of the nations who took part in the creation of this draft now fly at the main entrance to the hotel.
- When you trip the light fantastic on the dance floor in the famed Tonga Room, you’re dancing on the original deck of the SS Forrester, one of the last tall ships whose regular route ran between San Francisco and the South Seas.
- Don’t be surprised when the thunderstorm hits the Tonga Room. That’s right: there is regular thunder, lightning AND rain inside.
- Tony Bennett first sang ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’ in the Fairmont’s Venetian Room.
- Some of the signature cocktails at the Tonga Room include: The Tonga Itch, Lava Bowl, Tonga Tart (who, me?) and the Tematangi Ubangi, which OBVIOUSLY contains tequila. The name says absolutely everything about this Tongan concoction which will certainly make your head a bit bang-y if you ignore Dr Epic’s advice to consume in moderation.
- Caffe Cento is the place to grab a proper continental-style coffee while watching the trams come and go at the stop directly outside. It also has an excellent stock of Ghirardelli chocolate in case you need a sugar rush after climbing one of San Francisco’s hills.
- The Fairmont Hotel is allegedly home to a number of ghosts including a group of WWII soldiers who once stayed on the seventh floor and a prostitute who was murdered in her room but now chats to guests whilst lounging in her red teddy on a ghostly four-poster bed.
- Vertigo, The Rock and Midnight Lace are among the many films that have used The Fairmont as a location.
- Famous guests read like a Who’s Who directory: 10 US Presidents are on the list, along with royalty from the Middle East, Europe and Japan. The Dalai Lama has stayed at the Fairmont, as has Muhammed Ali. Shirley Temple Black, Nat King Cole and Maurice Chevalier are past guests, along with Clint Eastwood, Cyd Charisse and Duran Duran. The Fairmont of San Francisco may now also add two more esteemed guests to their long list: The Epicurienne and her Monsieur.
The Fairmont Hotel has given its name to a group of luxury hotels throughout both North America and the world, many of them landmarks in their own right. For instance, London’s famed Savoy Hotel, home of the best Bloody Mary on the planet, is part of The Fairmont’s stable, as is The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in Canada, with views over one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. From shaky beginnings, literally, the name ‘Fairmont’ has become synonymous with quality and that is why Monsieur and I chose the Fairmont San Francisco as the first stop on our honeymoon. Just wait until you hear about the breakfasts in the Laurel Court and room service with a view for a certain unfortunate invalid.
Just as I’d always known it would be, our stay at the Fairmont San Francisco was quite unforgettable, even if we didn’t have the chance to chat with the long-deceased prostitute in her cheeky red teddy or dance on a long-deceased ship’s original deck. You never know, though. Even if we wait another twenty-something years to revisit the Fairmont, I have a funny feeling that the hotel, the ghosts and the Tematangi Ubangi will still be there, for there are two immovable rocks in San Francisco and the Fairmont Hotel is one of them.
Tags: 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, Caffe Cento at The Fairmont, Chateau Lake Louise Hotel, Cocktails at the Fairmont, Connie Sellecca, Dorothy Draper, Ella Fitzgerald, Entertainment at The Fairmont, Famous guests of The Fairmont, Ghirardelli chocolate, Ghosts at The Fairmont Hotel, Hotel by Arthur Hailey, Hotel the tv series, Hotel tv series on DVD, I Left My Heart in San Francisco, James Brolin, James Brown, Julia Morgan, Julia Morgan's work on The Fairmont, Laurel Court at The Fairmont, Marlene Dietrich, Midnight Lace, New Orleans hotels, Nob Hill, Room Service at The Fairmont, San Francisco, San Francisco hotels, Savoy Hotel, SS Forrester, Sturdy hotels, Survival of the fittest, Tematangi Ubangi cocktail, The deck of the SS Forrester, The draft of the Charter for the UN 1945, The Fairmont Hotel Group, The Fairmont Hotel San Francisco, The Penthouse at The Fairmont, The Rock, The Royal York in Toronto, The St Gregory cocktail at the Fairmont, The St Gregory Hotel, The Tonga Room at The Fairmont, The Venetian Room at The Fairmont, Thunderstorms in the Tonga Room at The Fairmont, Tony Bennett, Toronto hotels, travel, Turtle on the menu, US Presidents at The Fairmont, USA, Vertigo
Posted by epicurienne
The totally filthy Ka’anapali Beach in Maui. (That’s surfer speak, Brah.)
The most enjoyable part of planning a wedding has to be arranging the honeymoon, at least, that’s how it was for this particular bride. Approve invitations – check, order confetti – check, revise RSVPs – check, book hotel for San Francisco and luau tickets in Maui? Yippedeedoodah! Now you’re talking.
It’s no secret that Monsieur and I are far from the youngest of newlyweds on the block, so a traditional wedding list didn’t make much sense to us. We have plenty of crockery to throw at each other as the days of wedded bliss fade. We have all sorts of kitchenware, from steak knives to an arthritic’s jar opener (I have weak hands), a crock pot and le Creuset bits and pieces (you get the picture) and a rolling pin that has yet to see some action. We have plenty of towels and bedding and other household paraphernalia, from mops and irons (plural) to a nice, fat tool box and there’s little room for anything else, so Monsieur and I sought out an alternative type of wedding list that wouldn’t require furniture or storage space.
We found some great ideas out there in the ether. I particularly liked the idea of each wedding guest giving the bride and groom a hardback copy of their favourite book, thereby filling a bookcase, but Monsieur’s response to that was “No. We have enough books.” and he has a point. We could just about start a lending service.
Some couples ask their guests to donate to a charity but thinking of our wedding gifts being listed in a stack of tax returns didn’t exactly float our boat; we’re a bit more romantic than that. Others ask for help with home improvements, but we don’t need a new kitchen and we have no garden to landscape. (Yet. Sod’s law is now we’ll probably get one.) Then there was the concept of asking our guests to contribute to the cost of our wedding but that approach wasn’t really us either.
In the end we settled on suggesting that our friends and family contribute to our honeymoon via an online honeymoon list, which, if you (a) realise how much we love to travel, (b) realise how much the happy couple NEEDS a honeymoon after planning and executing a successful wedding and (c) would like to receive a thank you note that doesn’t mention a household appliance, then you must know that a honeymoon list was exactly what the doctor ordered in our particular case.
We used a site called Honeyfund, allowing us to create our own page for our guests to visit, giving them the freedom to offer us a romantic dinner or sunset cocktails or a surfing lesson or Aloha shirt or other such activity or honeymooners’ treat. Not only did we enjoy the process of arranging our honeymoon list, but from what we heard back, our friends and family had great fun choosing what they wanted us to experience in our first weeks of marriage. Thanks to them we did indeed have a wonderful time. You should have seen Monsieur on that surf board. What a du-u-u-u-ude! Totally tubular. This landlubber is stockabocka to be his babe.
As Nuptial Novices we little realised quite how grateful we would be for the relaxation of this particular break away because by the time we were pronounced man and wife Monsieur and I were just about on our knees with fatigue. Read: dead. Six feet under. Kaputt. A pair of carcasses with the vultures closing in. We were practically incoherent and when we finally got to the airport two days after the wedding, I thought I was going to fall over, that’s how tired I was. At one point I had to stop and hold onto the wall – no joke. My head felt like a laptop when it loses power with fading screen. My brain was that screen and it didn’t feel so good. Later, in a particularly low-brain-cell-moment I even bought a Candace Bushnell novel, so depleted was my concentration. What was I thinking? It’s only one step up from a Ladybird book, for Heaven’s sake.
Given said physical state of exhaustion it’s therefore understandable when I say that never in my life have I so looked forward to a long-haul flight. Ah, the thought of ten plus hours in an economy class seat? With NOTHING to select, plan, approve or update apart from which new-release films to watch? Those are some seriously fond memories. Yes, this was a serious case of Please Pass the Eye Mask and Watch Me Snore.
First we flew to San Francisco, where we spent a couple of days exploring the Bay Area. Then we travelled on to the Hawaiian island of Maui for eight precious days of sun, sea, swimming, SLEEP and that world-renowned Aloha spirit. On the way back we stopped off in San Fran for one last night before jetting back home to work and piles of wedding magazines that were now screaming “Burn me! Burn me!”
Climbing onto my soap box now, I do have a few words to say to our new government here in the UK. Messrs Cameron and Clegg, Family Guys, if you’re so keen to promote family values, you should seriously consider giving married couples a helping hand on their way to honeymoon because such trips are a mental health requirement after all the work and wonga that goes into a wedding. There’s something about a daiquiri in hand and sand between the toes that goes far further in the soothing of frazzled newlyweds’ nerves than jaunt down to Brighton. Tripping through the tropics has probably saved Monsieur from committing Bride-acide and has definitely saved the NHS a fortune in beta blocker prescriptions, which I was perilously close to needing in recent months. In summary: we taxpayers don’t want to bail out any more banks. We want a holiday kickback from paying for all the banks you hold in our names. End of pseudo-political comment and back to Hawaii.
Indeed, the promise of the honeymoon and total rest in a place with decent weather was a massive carrot in front of our wedding donkey. It certainly helped to get us through those sticky moments when you wonder why you’re bothering with such an archaic ritual. Will all the effort be recognised? Is it worth it? Well, in our case we’d have to say yes, it was. And even though there is not yet a honeymoon benefit for hardworking taxpayers like ourselves, once the celebrations were over Monsieur and I were lucky enough to have our Honeyfund to help us reach those swaying palm trees. Our honeymoon was medicine in more ways than one and for that reason, we will be forever grateful to all our friends and family who helped to get us there. Hawaii’s still in my head even a fortnight after leaving. Now THAT’S what I call a holiday. Mahalo to you all! MAHALO and ALOHA, IT’S FRIDAY!
Tags: Booking a honeymoon, Charity gift list, Getting hitched, Hawaii, Hawaiian sunset, Home improvement gift list, Honeyfund, honeymoon in Hawaii, Honeymoon list, Honeymoons, Ka'anapali Beach, long haul flights, Maui, Pass The Eye Mask And Watch Me Snore moments, Post-wedding exhaustion, Postcard photography, reasons to look forward to a long-haul flight, San Francisco, Swaying palm trees, Wedding gift lists, Wedding gifts, Wedding library list