Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
A piece of San Francisco history well-maintained after a $30 million overhaul in 2011, but prices can be steep and location isn't great
One of downtown's best-known and largest hotels, the Sir Francis Drake is a San Francisco icon (known locally as simply "the Drake") due to its red-coated Beefeater doormen and on the 21st floor, where nightly jazz and sultry cocktail waitresses attract a crowd of locals and visitors. Built in 1928, this Kimpton-run hotel (previously run by Hilton) was long one of the city's most opulent hotels, with a glamourous clientele. Today it's more of a facsimile of its previous self, with a heavy 1920s and '30s theme and a grand motto: "Experience the Legend." An Italian restaurant helmed by a former Top Chef contestant, drag-show brunches, and stylish rooms renovated in 2012 are lovely, but can border on gimmicky at times.
Attentive, knowledgeable staff, fronted by the hotel's famous Beefeater doormen
The Sir Francis Drake's service signature is its uniformed Beefeater doormen -- particularly the city's most famed doorman, , who has been posted on Powell Street for over 30 years and, according to local legend, holds the honor of being the most photographed person in San Francisco. The service goes beyond the photo-friendly façade, however: Helpful front desk staff, bell staff, and room service are all up to standard. There aren't any major perks or surprises at the Drake (you'll have to move hotels and shell out more dough for things like turndown service, butler service, or a 24 hour-concierge), but it's as good as you'd expect for a large, midrange hotel in a big city.
Union Square, known for high-end shopping
The Sir Francis Drake is one block north 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 Fifth 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 Huntington in Nob Hill or the Argonaut Hotel Fisherman's Wharf.
Small and loud, but stylish and renovated in 2011
The hotel capitalizes on its historic charm and prohibition-era roots, with "vintage" design in the Starlight lounge and 2011-renovated lobby and rooms. Rooms can be small and sound insulation is an issue (this is an older building), but all 416 rooms were renovated in 2011 with stylish, upscale decor, new furniture and solid amenities. Frette linens, eco-friendly toiletries (the hotel no longer offers Aveda products), and updated flat-screen TVs come with every room. The redesign features a jewel-toned color palette and a boutique-chic aesthetic: no two side-tables are alike in the bedrooms, lamps are unique to each room, and pops of color keep the spaces feeling fresh. The details strive for opulence, but the over-the-top design might not be for everyone.
Because the Drake is an older building, two rooms of the same type can have different square footage and have different bathroom configurations (some are cramped, with only a standing shower, and some are more generous, with a full bathtub/shower combo). This can be frustrating, particularly the smaller bathrooms.
A business center and fitness center are the only real on-site facilities aside from Scala's Bistro and lounge. For a hotel of this size, price, and location, that's not surprising; few non-luxury hotels in San Francisco have more. Because the Drake is a Kimpton property, there are a few extras that are less obvious: pet-friendly services, in-room spa services, and an eco program that allows guests to forgo daily linen washings for a discount on their bill.
The vintage jazz-lounge atmosphere andmake a Union Square landmark.
On the 21st floor, the famoushas nightly jazz performances set against a backdrop of . Waitresses in slinky dresses and a classic cocktail menu give the bar a kind of 1930s jazz-lounge glamour on most nights. On weekends, Harry's fills with a rowdier dance-club crowd that stays until closing time at 2 p.m., when an overflow of revelers stops up the elevators. (Luckily, guests don't have to sleep next to the Starlight Room.)
Small rooms with poor sound insulation and hilly, busy surroundings make this less than ideal for kids.
As a brand, Kimpton makes an effort to be family friendly, but this isn't their best hotel for kids. The rooms are on the small side, and the old building's poor sound insulation isn't great for nap time or a sound night's sleep. The hotel is better known for a busy lobby bar and than it is for a family vibe. Other Kimpton hotels in San Francisco, like the Hotel Monaco and the Argonaut Hotel, offer the same services but with better rooms and atmosphere.
The hotel's age shows through in some rooms.
A $21 million renovation was completed in 2009, and another $30 million one in 2011. Furniture, carpeting, paint, and decor were all updated. Daily housekeeping keeps sheets and towels fresh.
A solid Italian option from Jennifer Biesty of Top Chef
Scala's Bistro, a modern Italian restaurant, serves three meals a day, and is most notable for its semicelebrity chef, Jennifer Biesty, a former contestant on the reality show Top Chef. Consistently good standard Italian fare (made with local, fresh ingredients, of course) is far from San Francisco's most exciting dining option, but it's a good one for Union Square, and the service and atmosphere are pleasant.
The Beefeater doormen, grand lobby, and are among retro flourishes that make this Union Square hotel a San Francisco treasure. Its 416 rooms can be small, but after a $30 million overhaul in 2011, they are also stylish and upscale.