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The 131-room San Francisco Proper Hotel is one of the more exciting Starwood properties in the City by the Bay. Pros: central location, fabulous bed, nice room amenities. Cons: gritty location, exorbitant valet prices.
Thanks to the tech boom and a bustling business in trade conventions, San Francisco has one of the country’s most dynamic and developed hotel scenes. On many visits to the city over the years, I’ve gotten to stay at dozens of hotels there, but I am always looking for something new. That’s how I came across the San Francisco Proper Hotel.
The hotel opened in the summer of 2017 and was the first of five Proper Hotels planned (so far) for cities including Los Angeles, Austin and Portland. It is also a member of Design Hotels, where you can earn and redeem Starwood Preferred Guest points, which made it an especially attractive option for me. But more on that later.
On the Starwood Preferred Guest site, I found rates starting at $285 per night for a flexible rate in a king premier room that I could cancel up to two days before arrival. I decided to book one and then see if they came down in the days leading up to my stay.
At the time, SPG was not loading rates for the bunk rooms (yes, there are rooms with bunk beds supposedly for traveling colleagues on a budget, or perhaps bad co-sleepers) in the rooms at the triangular eastern corner of the building. They now seem to be available on the SPG site. Rates for those normally start around $191. These also seem to be the only rooms bookable using Starpoints for 20,000 to 25,000 points per night (it varies even by day within the same week). Cash & Points rates were not available for the rest of the bookable schedule at this hotel when I last checked.
A few days before my trip, the rate for a queen or king deluxe (the bed type you get and the size of the room, which ranges from 200 to 275 square feet, are based on availability) in a lower category was $235 for the night.
I was about to book that, but then I remembered I would have a car with me and would need to valet it overnight, at which point I found out that would cost me $65!
Not quite sure what to do, I looked at the Proper’s own site, and found there was a promo that included valet parking. The rate for the same queen/king deluxe with parking was $265 per night. So for $30 more, instead of $65, I could get myself parking privileges.
I called SPG to see if they could duplicate the promo, but the agent said no, that must be offered directly through the hotel. I asked if I could still earn points on the stay if I booked directly through Proper, and she also said no.
I had a quandary. I wanted to earn SPG points, since I’d earn 5x points per dollar thanks to my Starwood Gold status and the fact that I could pay with my Starwood Preferred Guest credit card from American Express. But I also wanted to save $35. I figured the points I’d earn wouldn’t be worth anywhere near $35, so I went ahead and booked directly through the Proper site. I paid with my Chase Sapphire Reserve so that I’d at least earn 3x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar.
I decided to submit a missing stay request through SPG.com to see if I could earn points after the stay, since I’d booked directly with the property. Sure enough, 24 hours after my request, I was notified that I’d been awarded my points. I should have just added my SPG number at check-in, but it slipped my mind. A lesson for next time!
Interestingly enough, 24 hours before my stay, I got a text message from someone at the hotel confirming my stay and asking if I had any stay preferences. I said that I’d prefer a king over a queen bed, and he said they’d do their best to accommodate me, so I kept my fingers crossed.
The Proper is on the corner of Market and McAllister streets in a historic flatiron building that was completed in 1904 by Beaux-Arts architect Albert Pissis. It’s a short walk to the Civic Center, where there was a farmer’s market on Sunday morning, the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Opera and the offices of several major tech firms, including Twitter. If we’d been noise-sensitive, though, we’d have found the location too loud, because it was right on Market Street.
The area, now called Mid-Market, was at the edge of the Tenderloin, which can get a bit gritty.
The hotel is convenient for getting around the city and is a quick walk to the BART and a short drive to the freeways. The hotel had complimentary Shinola bikes for guests.
We drove up to the hotel at around 2:30pm on Saturday, and the valet at the McAllister Street entrance was on hand to take our car. He said overnight valet was $65, but I took that in stride, since I’d booked the valet promo.
We went down a small flight of stairs to the main floor of the lobby. The check-in agent said he’d booked us into a king room on the top floor, right under the rooftop bar. I was thrilled that my text messaging with the team had produced the intended result, but asked if we could have a room not near the bar, since I thought it would be loud until late that evening.
He upgraded us to a king premier on the sixth floor, which would have been $50 more for the night if I’d booked it outright.
The lobby was decorated by interior designer Kelly Wearstler, like the rest of the hotel. Wearstler reupholstered the colorful, vintage furniture, and I liked the artfully mismatched pieces, which were arranged into several distinct sitting areas.
You could order drinks and small bites out here as well if you didn’t want to dine at Villon, the restaurant adjacent to the lobby.
The walls were covered with various paintings and sculptural pieces, and the lighting fixtures lent the space a very cool Art Deco vibe.
There were just two elevators in the lobby, and they ran a little slow, but before long, we were up on the sixth floor walking down the hallway to our room.
The halls were sparsely decorated and lit by windows overlooking the building’s interior space.
Our room was just a few doors down the hall from the elevator landing.
Let’s just get this out there: The room décor was … busy. There were two different black-and-white floral prints on the walls plus a third wall with its own nearly delirious patterning. The throw pillows and blankets were lined and checked, the window covering had a block print on it, and the headboard and the window settee were both almost blurry. But it worked.
The patterns caused my eyes to wander constantly, but the black-white-gray palette was also somehow soothing, and the wooden floors were a classy touch.
The bed had a handmade mattress by California brand Aireloom with Italian linens by Bellino and hypoallergenic pillows. This was one of the most, if not the most, comfortable hotel beds I’ve ever slept in. The mattress was soft but supportive, and the duvet was just the right balance of weight and breathability.
Bellino also made the towels in the bathroom, but Wearstler designed the kimono-style bathrobes.
Though compact, the bathroom was set up with plenty of counter space on the black marble sink and a top shelf.
The walk-in shower featured glazed beige tiling and a glass partition that kept the rest of the bathroom dry.
The hotel stocked Aesop toiletries including the classic shampoo and conditioner and geranium-leaf body cleanser. The one flaw was that the built-in shelf in the shower wasn’t quite tall enough for the full-size bottles. You sort of had to grab the bottle and jam it up against the top of the shelf in order to dispense liquid.
Back in the main room, there was a settee, table and small chair for lounging by the window.
Opposite the bed was a 50-inch TV that allowed you to stream content from your own devices.
One nightstand held a Vifa Bluetooth speaker that resembled a fashionable handbag.
The other held a telephone, two bottles of water and a tablet with the Proper app, through which you could order room service, ask for extra toiletries or contact the concierge.
The closet along the hallway from the door was small but adequate.
The minibar held a selection of edible and drinkable treats including local brands like MacRostie chardonnay from Sonoma and Alta Palla flavored sparkling water. There wasn’t any way to make coffee in the room, though.
We were on the McAllister side of the building, looking over a building providing services to the homeless.
It was also relatively quiet compared to the Market Street side of the hotel, though the soundproofed windows did not quite keep out the noise of sirens and the cable car running along Market.
Wi-Fi was free, but though the hotel described it as “blazing fast,” I’d call it moderately speedy.
Food and Beverage
The hotel has three dining outlets. The main one is Villon down in the lobby, overseen by executive chef Mikey Adams, who joined the team in the spring. The space, which was not large, was anchored by a bar at one end and a massive column in the middle.
We didn’t eat there, but the dinner menu included dishes like hamachi tataki, kale salad with manchego, grilled octopus with chorizo in mole verde and goat cavatelli with eggplant and labneh. The brunch menu included specialties like avocado toast with a poached egg and Fresno chili, overnight oats with almond butter and cocoa nibs and a ham-and-egg sandwich with smoked ketchup.
Even more interesting was the cocktail list created for the hotel by bar consultants BVHospitality. The menu was divided into seven sections of seven drinks each, every one an homage to San Francisco’s 7-by-7-mile area. The sections included cocktails invented at or made famous by hotels, like the sidecar and the Vieux Carré. Others were original creations, like the Earthquake Proof, a combo of tequila, crème de cacao, lime and Coca-Cola served with a salty rim.
The hotel also had a casual dine-in space at the corner of McAllister and Market called La Bande, serving coffee drinks, wine, beer and small bites. But if cocktails are your thing, you need to head to the eighth-floor rooftop bar, Charmaine’s.
I entered via a separate door and elevator on McAllister Street down from the valet entrance. The evening we wanted to check it out, there was a line almost to the corner, so I visited in the afternoon instead.
The main bar area was to the right once I got off the elevator.
There was another seating area to the left.
The main draw, however, was the terrace, which had fire pits overlooking Market Street and the skyscrapers of the Financial District.
Even at 3:00pm on a Saturday afternoon, the space was humming. With these views, it was easy to understand why.
The food menu up here included marinated olives, vadouvan cashews, fries with onion-marmalade ketchup, beef sliders, a falafel wrap and churros with chocolate-banana dip.
Drinks included the Schrodinger, made from Jameson Black Barrel Irish whiskey, cold-brew coffee, Amaro Meletti, lemon, grapefruit tonic and crushed ice; and Songs from the Brill Building, made with Larceny bourbon, Benedictine, amontillado, cherry liqueur and ginger bitters.
Apart from the restaurants, there weren’t too many other amenities to speak of. There were meeting rooms down in the basement, near a small gym.
It had the usual array of cardio machines and free weights, plus a speed bag.
I’d like to note a few things about the service. The first is that the valet at the hotel operated via text message. Your ticket number was also a number you could text to the valet stand, and it would queue up your car for pickup. When we did so on Sunday morning at the same time we headed downstairs for checkout, we got this text message back.
A half hour!? Luckily, when I stepped outside, the valet assured me it would just be a few minutes. I’m not sure what is wrong with the system, but it needs to approximate the timing better so as not to alarm guests.
Then there was the checkout itself. Though the morning agent was nice, he literally asked 20 questions about my trip, my stay, my plans for the day, where I was from and so on over the course of a minute while I was simply trying to ascertain the final charges and approve them. I finally got him to tell me that it would be the room charges plus $65 for valet, at which point I reminded him I’d booked the valet promo. He seemed confused, but double-checked the reservation then verified I was correct. He then had to amend the bill and said he could email it to me.
Email it? I wanted to see the invoice so I could be sure what the final amount was and that it matched the rate I’d booked. He told me that they were having trouble with the printer so he might not be able to print it out. I asked to step behind the desk to look at his computer so I could see the charges myself. Funnily enough, the printer started working again and I was able to review my bill. It was correct, but I’m not sure why the valet charge had been added in the first place, and why he hadn’t tried printing my bill for me when I asked. It all just made checkout one degree more stressful than it needed to be.
I will say that he was very polite and friendly throughout, though, as were all the other staff I interacted with during the stay, including those at the bar and restaurants.
The San Francisco Proper Hotel is a cool new addition to the San Francisco hotel scene. I liked the quirky décor, the in-room amenities, and especially that bed. While the location is not touristy, it’s not exactly tourist-friendly, either, so if you’re thinking of staying here, consider the state of the neighborhood.
I would definitely return to try the food at Villon and a drink at the rooftop bar, though. Those views were spectacular, and the vibe was cool without being overly self-conscious. That said, I’d wait till room rates drop closer to the $200 rather than $300 mark, and I’d try to figure out a way to book through SPG so I could earn or redeem points without having to shell out a fortune on parking.
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