Clift Rating: 4.0 Pearls
Union Square, San Francisco, California

Oyster Review Summary

Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators

Pros

  • Redwood Room bar attracts a slick see-and-be-seen crowd
  • Stylish lobby (designed by Philippe Starck and Ian Schrager) contains an impressive collection of designer furniture
  • Rooms are well-furnished and very clean
  • Small fitness center on-site
  • 24-hour concierge
  • 24-hour room service
  • Free bike rental

Cons

  • Rooms are on the small side, with very small bathrooms
  • Minimal extra services and amenities

Bottom Line

Known for its Redwood Room bar, the Clift's hip scene is typical of the Morgans Hotel Group, which bought the historic hotel from Four Seasons and reopened it in 2001 after a makeover by Philippe Starck and Ian Schrager (the latter of Studio 54 fame). The lobby and the 350 small but comfortable rooms are short on amenities but high on scene and style.

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Oyster Hotel Review

 Scene

A historic building refurbished as a trendy design hotel, with a popular bar and restaurant

The Redwood Room bar
The Redwood Room bar

Owned by Morgans Hotel Group (the company started by Studio 54 mastermind Ian Schrager and known best for hip hotels like Miami's Delano and New York's Royalton), the Clift, in Union Square, is one of the trendiest hotels in San Francisco. Where most of downtown's hotel bars tend towards subdued and subtle, the Clift's Redwood Room feels like a night club, complete with $20 cocktails, multimedia artwork, and a large enough crowd of late-night revelers that even standing space becomes high-value real estate as the night goes on. The cavernous lobby is dark and moody and selectively lit to highlight a collection of funky furniture whose designer roster is the hotel equivalent of name-dropping, including the memorable and oft-photographed Alice in Wonderland-esque giant chair. Rooms are on the small side for the area (starting at 260 square feet), but the minimalist design and white and lavender décor make them feel larger than they are. The small bathrooms, too, feel less cramped thanks to smart, clean design.

The 350-room hotel actually dates back to 1924, but the Morgans Group overhaul, headed up by Philippe Starck and Ian Schrager himself, was finished in 2001 and left little evidence of the building's Art Deco history, aside from its stone exterior. If you're looking for history, the Sir Francis Drake and the Westin St. Francis go to lengths to showcase their historic homes.

Anyone who finds themselves less concerned with the scene, and more concerned with amenities and services, might find the Clift lacking: There are well-dressed, good-looking doormen, a 24-hour concierge, and 24-hour room service, but there's no turndown service, newspaper delivery, or extra perks. The amenities are limited to a business center and a small fitness room.

Overall, the Clift is the kind of place that screams "sexy" and "high design" -- like a set from Sex and the City come to life. Depending on your perspective, that's either its best asset or its greatest liability.

 Location

Union Square, known for high-end shopping

The Clift sits two blocks west of Union Square, which is famous for its couture shops. Home to enormous outposts of Niketown, Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany, Macy's, Louis Vuitton, and Neiman Marcus, among others, Union Square is to San Francisco what 5th Avenue is to New York. Locals don't hang out here much, but the square is great for people-watching nonetheless, and occasionally plays host to concerts, small festivals, and demonstrations. If shopping isn't your priority, you might prefer a hotel in a neighborhood closer to some of the biggest tourists attractions, like the Hyatt in Fisherman's Wharf.

  • Four blocks from the Powell-Mason and Powell-Hyde cable car lines, which run to Lombard Street and Ghirardelli Square or to Fisherman's Wharf, near Pier 39; a 20-minute ride
  • Far from the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, and Haight-Ashbury
  • Discount day-of theater seats available at the Union Square ticket kiosk
  • Plenty of dining nearby, though the area isn't really known for its epicurean flare (Cheesecake Factory is the most visible restaurant around)
  • Il Caffe at Union Square charges extortionary rates for its coffee and snacks, but you can't beat the setting on a sunny day
  • 30-minute cab ride from San Francisco International Airport

 Rooms

Small to average for the area, but well designed

Standard room
Standard room

Rooms are around 260 to 400 square feet, which is average for a historic building in this area, but can feel cramped. Philippe Starck's minimalist design and strategic use of wall-to-wall mirrors makes the rooms feel larger than they really are, however. The near all-white palette with cool lavender accents also helps keep the rooms feeling as open and airy as possible. But if minimalist design sounds alarm bells, fear not: The furnishings are still extremely comfortable, the technology is modern and top-notch, and the minibar is well stocked (with a few cheeky extras thrown in). If you can get a good deal on an upgrade, it's worth it for a little more space than the basic rooms.

  • Beds have pillow-top mattresses, down comforters, and 400-thread-count sheets.
  • Bathrooms are small but clean and well designed, with tub/shower units and high-end toiletries.
  • 31-inch Sony flat-screen TVs
  • CD-player/alarm clock, but no iPod dock
  • Wi-Fi is charged per day.
  • Playfully stocked minibars, a hallmark of the Morgans Hotel Group, include Kiki de Montparnasse intimacy kits and Morgans' "Recess-Is-On" T-shirts

 Features

High-design lobby and trendy nightlife scene have a definite wow factor, but amenities are otherwise pretty basic.

The business center
The business center

The most promoted and most distinctive feature of the Clift is its trendy scene. The hotel has the basic features to keep it competitive in its location and price level -- a business center, an on-site fitness center -- but they're utilitarian and don't particularly stand out. Guests can make use of a larger fitness center with a pool two blocks away for a daily fee. The hotel advertises its "Living Room" as "evoking the spirit of an old English club or drawing room," but that's a bit of an overstatement: The space feels more like simply an extension of the lobby.

  • The touted "Living Room" is a large, dimly lit lounge area with sectional couches, chessboard tables, and backlit photographs of toy animals by Jean Baptiste Mondino. But ultimately it isn't much more than an extension of the lobby -- and there isn't a stack of free newspapers or free coffee and tea service.
  • Business center with three Dell computers, a printer, and fax machine, plus a small lounge area with two flat-panel TVs and sofas
  • 24-hour, utilitarian Fitness Center has six cardio machines, two cable weight machines, and free weights in a fairly small room
  • Wi-Fi is charged per day.
  • Free bike rentals

 Entertainment

Well designed and popular; a landmark Union Square bar

The Redwood Room bar, originally opened in 1933 as a classic Art Deco lounge, has been reincarnated as one of the trendiest places to drink around Union Square. Paneled in warm redwood (legend holds that it's all from a single, 2,000-year-old tree), the bar has velvety red sofas and chairs, digital artwork, and warm, sexy lighting. The bar attracts a full house on weekends and a good-size crowd even on weeknights, especially for a neighborhood that's more about shopping than partying. There's no cover charge, but once the hotel deems the bar full, discerning doormen act as crowd control. Because the bar is located just off the lobby, you'll need a key card to prove you're a hotel guest and get back in on busy nights. Fair warning, if you decide to join the bar crowd: People dress to impress here, and it can feel like a pickup scene. Some love the Redwood Room, and others call it cheesy and arguably past its prime. If all you want is a small taste of the scene, it's a great place for a predinner cocktail.

  • Open daily
  • Signiature cocktails like Lychee Martinis and Bacon Manhattans are steeply priced

 Family

Known for nightlife and high design, not high chairs

Though the hotel's larger rooms and suites are spacious enough and quiet enough to be family-appropriate, the vibe of the hotel and is generally not family-friendly.

  • Daily fee for rollaway beds; cribs are free
  • Only loft rooms and suites are large enough for rollaways

 Food

Trendy Velvet Room restaurant

Velvet Room
Velvet Room

The trendy Velvet Room serves up breakast and dinner in the dimly-lit restaurant that features Murano glass lamps, wood-paneled walls, and (as expected) lots of velvet accents. The meals are expensive but change seasonally and are often organic and locally grown.

  • Velvet room serves organic, locally-grown breakfast and dinner in a dark dining room adjacent to the Redwood Room bar. Reservations are recommended for dinner.

 Cleanliness

Even the white-on-white rooms are spotless.

Reopened by Morgans Hotel Group in 2001, the Clift is in great condition. Rigorous housekeeping keeps everything clean, from sheets to tile grout to the wall-to-wall mirrors.

 Bottom Line

Known for its Redwood Room bar, the Clift's hip scene is typical of the Morgans Hotel Group, which bought the historic hotel from Four Seasons and reopened it in 2001 after a makeover by Philippe Starck and Ian Schrager (the latter of Studio 54 fame). The lobby and the 350 small but comfortable rooms are short on amenities but high on scene and style.

Things You Should Know About Clift

Address

  • 495 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

Hotel Is Also Known As...

  • Clift Hotel San Francisco
  • Clift San Francisco
  • San Francisco Clift Hotel

Room Types

  • Deluxe Room
  • Deluxe Suite
  • Loft
  • Private Apartment
  • Standard Room
  • Studio
  • Suite
  • Superior Room

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Hotel Features

Number of Rooms: 363
Fitness Center: Yes
Internet: Yes
Pets Allowed: Yes
Cribs: Yes
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Hotel Information

Location: Union Square, San Francisco
Address: 495 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA 94102
(See Map)
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