First Look: Virgin Hotel San Francisco
"It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs." Thus declared Bathsheba Everdene, the heroine of Thomas Hardy's Victorian novel, Far From the Madding Crowd.
Similarly, it's difficult to understand what exactly to expect from the brand-new Virgin Hotel San Francisco, which named its rooftop bar Everdene after Bathsheba, and which describes itself in some lofty language. Rooms here are compared to space shuttles. The new building, built from the ground up, combines "San Francisco’s Victorian-era past, the city’s 1960s rock ‘n’ roll appropriation of Victorian styling, and a 19th-century British feel" with an homage to the strength of women around the world, and specifically here in San Francisco.
Curious to see what all of that would look like in real life, TPG stopped in to get a first look of the hotel this past week. We found the jumbled metaphors quite visually pleasing in real life, and can't wait to come back in a month or two when all four dining options are fully open for business.
The hotel is located on busy Fourth Street in San Francisco's SoMa district, right next to the Yerba Buena Gardens and steps from the Moscone Convention Center. There's also a Target within close walking distance.
As soon as you walk in the front doors, you'll be greeted by cheerful employees manning two freestanding check-in desks. Currently papered over with butcher paper, the windows to the right of the lobby will eventually host the Funny Library coffee shop, which will feature coffee beans from Hugh Jackman's brand.
But you aren't obligated to wait by the desk for check-in.
Alternatively, you can duck left into the Shag Room — thus named for the carpet, I was informed by a hotel employee — which features a real fireplace, rich velvet seating and a place to kick back and relax while the front desk staff come to you.
A little nook in the Shag Room offered a window view into the check-in area.
A tall glass partition separated the Shag Room from the Commons Club, a mixed-use dine/drink/workspace with stunning high ceilings and a luxe, safari lodge-inspired vibe. A Virgin Hotels photo booth stood in the corner by the DJ booth, although the apparatus will probably be moved elsewhere once a two-seater swing is installed in its current location.
The Commons Club is a gorgeous, airy space with floor-to-ceiling high windows, rich curtains sectioning off various parts of the dining room, a generous bar and eye-catching chandeliers. Virgin Hotels hopes to turn this spot into a central gathering spot, not just for visiting patrons but for locals passing through or working in the area.
As an added bonus, guests who stay at the Virgin Hotels SF currently can enjoy free breakfast here, or their first two drinks free (scroll to the bottom of the page to see the specials).
For those who enjoy working from hotel bars like I do, a thoughtful row of coat hooks and both power and USB outlets at each seat made it easy to stay plugged in. Vachetta leather bar stools were plushy and comfortable for long-term sitting.
Below-bar lighting also made it easy to quickly identify items in bags with minimal hassle.
A row of cafe-style seating by the window allowed for intimate conversations, especially paired with a premium-quality audio system specially designed to facilitate acoustics that will enhance, not overpower the space.
Even the leather built-in seats came with outlets for optimal work efficiency.
The Commons Club is open from 7am to 9pm, and offers a daytime menu as well as a dinner menu featuring a "fresh, modern take on California cuisine," according to the company website.
Comfortable, casual sofa seating is available in the middle of the dining room.
Bold red speakers give nod to the hotel's roots from the iconic Virgin Records brand.
The decor is just as much of a treat as the food, with richly textured ceiling tiles and eye-catching bookshelf nooks featuring culinary and literary inspiration.
To the right of the Commons Club, a long red-carpeted staircase led up to the conference rooms on the second floor.
Here, modular walls allow visitors to configure rooms to suit their needs, from large seminar sessions to intimate board meetings.
The hotel's second floor was also home to the Upstairs at the Common Club area — an open-air patio space with lounge seating and more work-friendly spots, replete with lighting and outlets.
Guests can bring up their own cocktails from the Commons Club, or order directly from the Upstairs bar.
An audio/visual-friendly area could even serve as an informal meeting area.
Whimsical, contemporary-styled bathroom areas were clearly marked for all genders, with individual stalls leading out to a common sink and styling area.
Elevators made it easy to access all 12 stories in the Virgin Hotel SF.
The hotel room hallways are the most overtly "Virgin" part of the entire hotel, with bold red doors against crisp white walls.
The Virgin Hotels brand calls its rooms "Chambers" for the unique two-room style. From the front entrance, a narrow hallway was flanked by dual curtain-covered closet areas on one side, and two translucent glass doors hiding the toilet and the shower, respectively.
An overhead rainfall shower head, coupled with a handheld nozzle, would easily pass the TPG shower test.
The hotel's signature little red mascot, Snoozy the Sheep, peeked out from behind the towels and shower products.
A vanity nook was tucked between the two closet sections, one of which held a complimentary yoga mat as well as the standard ironing board and iron, hangers, dry-clean bags and extra bedding.
The vanity featured a velvet tuffet seat, a drawer for toiletries, facial tissue, a magnifying makeup mirror and a lighted built-in mirror.
The in-room sink lived on the other side of the vanity nook, resulting in a very cozily appointed space that might feel cramped for two busy people trying to get ready at the same time.
The hotel uses Red Flower products.
The console under the sink folded open to show stashes of linens as well as a hairdryer. In keeping with the hotel's homage to strong women, I was informed that the hotel goes to special pains to ensure their hair dryers are high quality and will not damage long hair. As a long-haired human who blow-dries her hair, I approve.
The closets included two soft, fluffy white robes prominently featuring the Virgin label.
The second room in the Chamber is the bedroom, separated from the dressing area by a sliding barn door complete with a little peephole. I was told that this, coupled with the in-room ordering services, meant that a guest could slide shut the bedroom door for additional privacy while staff members deliver food, coffee or other requested items into the dressing room.
Each bedroom faces the city with a full wall of floor-to-ceiling windows, dressed in double layers of sheer and blackout curtains.
The lounge-style chaise bed included some retro-inspired styling details, with nightstands and a tiny nook seat in the corner by the door.
The bedside phone features a unique button: A cheerily-labeled "Yes!" button. I was told that this is because the hotel's motto is to say "yes" first, and ask for the question afterward. For all intents and purposes, this means you could ask for pretty much anything within reason and have the staff find, order, make or purchase it for you.
A large flatscreen at the foot of the bed allows guests to quickly scan the day's news, watch various shows, connect to online streaming channels, and even the room folio detailing breakdowns from every last items of food service you ordered.
On that note, it's worth mentioning that the Virgin Hotel's loyalty program, The Know, is available online or via app, even for people who don't stay in the hotel rooms. "Stay in The Know," proclaims the witty website, by sharing your hotel stay preferences via a whimsical survey replete with witty little quips that are irresistibly fun to fill out, conveniently helping you ignore how much personal data you're willingly offering up a consumer brand.
The quiz verbiage includes fun little Easter eggs such as the "It's not polite to ask" option under your birth year, or "bleasure" as a third option besides business or pleasure travel.
As of now, Virgin Hotels cannot yet be booked via points from any current system. However, the new single-brand Virgin Loyalty Program will offer a single Virgin-wide award currency once the program launches sometime later this year. Meanwhile, The Know members who enter their personal preferences can enjoy personalized stays, member-only discounts, upgrades, grab free cocktails during the nightly "Spirit Hour" reception in the hotel lobby, and receive monthly insider access to special events in Commons Club.
Getting back to the bedroom, the well-stocked mini bar with tiny retro fridge can be customized to include treats you love. The generic round-up is pretty great as well, replete with an electric kettle for brewing hot pour-over coffee directly in your own room, as well as a cocktail shaker and drink mixers for mixing the perfect drink. If you just want some wine but don't want to drink it from the bottle, ask the virtual assistant, Lucy, to have the staff send up a wine glass from the bar for you.
Drinks and snacks are generously offered at "street pricing," which means they're about on-par with what you'd pay to pick them up yourself at Target or CVS. In addition to traditional classics, the Virgin Hotels SF boasts specialty, local and unique drinks that you won't find just anywhere.
And of course, no 21st-century hotel would be complete without a generous range of outlets both for power and for USB devices.
The Virgin Hotels brand isn't for everyone, especially for those used to a more traditional sense of luxury, but we're almost certain it will delight local and traveling millennials and young professionals alike.
Although Virgin Hotels San Francisco is only the second property in the portfolio after Chicago launched last year, don't fret. There soon will be nearly a dozen more hotels, coming first to Dallas in 2019, followed by Nashville, New York City in the NoMad District and Las Vegas in 2020. Silicon Valley, New Orleans, DC Union Market and Edinburgh will follow in 2021, with Palm Springs coming in 2024.
Hopefully by then, we can use the points earned from staying at Virgin Hotels toward booking a Virgin Galactic space tour.
All photos by Katherine Fan/TPG.