Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
Hip guests, a funky courtyard pool, and weekend nightlife at Chambers Eat + Drink restaurant and lounge elevate this 44-room converted motel to hip hotel status.
Set in "humble" (read: seedy) Tenderloin District environs, the Phoenix is a pioneer of the hip hotel in a dubious locale, not to mention the flagship of California's popular Joie de Vivre boutique hotel chain (now with 35 hotels in the state). The chain's CEO, Chip Conley, took a gamble back in 1987 when he bought what was the Caravan Lodge Motel (circa 1956), spiffed up the rooms and pool, and gave it its hopeful name. He also had the ingenuity to utilize the property's large parking lot, rare among the hotels with more desirable downtown addresses, to provide tour bus parking and shore power for traveling musicians, which, in combination with the charming, bohemian vibe of the property, may be the secret to his success. The hotel attracts an impressive roster of rocker guests, including Joan Jett, David Bowie, Moby, Little Richard, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, and The Shins, as well as a cult following of patrons who don't mind venturing to this rough, out-of-the-way location for a chance to feel as cool as their favorite band.
Despite the all-star guest list, the Phoenix's rooms and amenities aren't for pampered starlets. This is a dressed-up motel, after all. Its 44 bare-bones rooms and suites are relatively small for San Francisco (245 to 500 square feet) and have little more than beds, bathrooms, and dated tube TVs, and range from standard Double Double Rooms to suites that have refrigerators and microwaves. Last renovated in 2006, the decor is mostly 1950s kitsch, accented with somewhat random musical instruments (a bamboo xylophone in one room, for example), though the four suites have more modern decor. It's no surprise, given the rocker aesthetic, that rooms can be rather noisy: They all face the courtyard pool, have thin walls, and require you to get on the party bandwagon, even if you're not actually at the party being held down below. Consider earplugs.
What the Phoenix lacks on a list of services and facilities, it makes up for with a cheery staff and a great atmosphere. Forget about room service, poolside service, a fitness center, or business center. You're in cool rocker mode, remember? These things aren't supposed to matter. The courtyard pool feels like a slice of 1950's SoCal with colorful sculptures, several potted palms, original mosaic on the pool's bottom, and tons of lounge chairs and sheltered cabanas. The atmospheric Chambers Eat + Drink restaurant and lounge serves dinner and a sceney nightlife. A friendly staff mans the front desk 24 hours and acts as a knowledgeable concierge, with an impressive index of restaurants, bars, and musician-specific resources (like music shops, rehearsal and recording studios, and instrument repair shops). For the hotel's low-maintenance guests, it's all they need to be happy.
Located on the edge of the seedy Tenderloin
At check-in, the friendly front desk clerk gives guests a map and cheerfully notes, "We're in a seedy part of town, if you hadn't noticed, so before you go anywhere, just let us know so we can tell you the nicest route." You have to give the hotel credit for not pretending to be in any other neighborhood: The staff is forthcoming with guests about the dangers and annoyances of the Tenderloin, and the hotel actually hosts fundraisers to help the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation, a nonprofit housing provider.
Though we group the Phoenix with downtown or Union Square hotels, it's nowhere near the upscale shops and bustling city parks and museums that those areas are known for. Located between Civic Center and the Tenderloin, it's in a neighborhood known for significantly higher rates of poverty, homelessness, and crime than other neighborhoods. Alongside the low-income housing, drug-treatment centers, and homeless shelters, though, is a budding community of artists and writers that call the area home, of which the Phoenix is a member of sorts. But unlike the Mission and even SoMa, which, in large part, have been gentrified, the vibe here is still undoubtedly dicey.
Famous for A-list rocker guests and an artsy, cool vibe, this one-of-a-kind, converted 44-room motel may have seedy Tenderloin District surroundings and bare-bones rooms, but the unique, SoCal-style courtyard pool and happening on-site nightlife keep the hip crowd happy.