Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
An overly enthusiastic tribute to Italy that packs a lot of visual punch, but falls short on delivery
Columns, a cherubic fountain, and a beautiful sidewalk tile mosaic greet guests of Villa Florence, a gushing monument to all things vaguely Italian. The theme's charm depends on how much you love Italy, or else how amenable you are to an unabashedly kitschy representation of its culture. But if the decor is overdone, at least it's consistent. The color scheme of burnt orange, cream, and pale green provides the backdrop for a gallery of photographs evoking scenes from around the boot-shaped country: villas, terraces, gardens, gates, and statues. And in a refreshing departure from the countryside, each bathroom comes with a photo of a sultry, negligeed Sophia Loren.
Villa Florence's large lobby packs a lot of visual flair: high, heavy curtains framing Venetian murals, full-glass windows into the hotel restaurant, scalloped ceilings, and Da Vinci and Michelangelo coffee table books. Bar Norcini, the lobby wine bar with a cheap, daily happy hour and cafe-style sidewalk seating, draws a mix of hotel guests and passers-by. A 2008 renovation introduced a classy lobby business center, a disappointing fitness center on the 2nd floor, and new room furnishings.
Capable and friendly service, but inconsistent
Villa Florence has a pretty visible fleet of bellmen and desk staff, but they are not always on-hand to deal with crowds during check-in.
In Union Square, on a block crowded with shops and restaurants, near two cable car lines
Villa Florence is a block south of Union Square, famous for its couture shops and not much else. Home to enormous outposts of Niketown, Saks, Tiffany, Macy's, Louis Vuitton, and Neiman Marcus, among others, Union Square is to San Francisco what 5th Avenue is to New York and Rodeo Drive is to L.A. Locals don't hang out here, but the square is great for people-watching, nonetheless, and it occasionally plays host to small festivals and demonstrations. Still, if conspicuous consumption isn't a priority, you might prefer a neighborhood closer to the city's biggest attractions, like Nob Hill or Fisherman's Wharf.
Old-world style rooms are up-to-date, but small.
The rooms continue the lobby's decorative motifs, with a high valance and curtains over the bed, marble-topped tables, and lamps that dim. They're well-stocked, and features fall somewhere between luxury and budget grade -- plush bathrobes on the one hand, instant coffee on the other (Colombian instant in Italy?) This spot bills itself as a "modern Italian villa," and while the characterization requires imagination (ignore the street noise and view of tacky gift shops on the streets below), it's not far off.
On-site features are a mixed bag when it comes to quality.
Villa Florence's 2008 renovation added some features and improved existing ones. Some are great and others disappoint. Unlike a lot of Union Square hotels, which merely provide a home base to return to after a day of shopping or sightseeing, Villa Florence offers a nice place on-site to unwind. Bar Norcini, the lobby wine bar (with tasting flights available as well), has cafe-style sidewalk seating and serves Italian-style cocktails and a range of cheeses, coffees, and panini. Happy hour, with its cheap glasses of wine, attracts a youthful crowd looking for a drink before venturing elsewhere for dinner.
Not particularly good for families
With its relatively small rooms and lack of kid-specific amenities, the Villa Florence is unlikely to appeal to families. The location isn't that close to major attractions, but there are nearby cable car lines for public transit options. The Handlery Union Square, just around the corner, however, has comparable rates and room sizes, and also offers a pool that kids can enjoy.
The Italian restaurant Kuleto's, just off the lobby, is hardly just a repository, like some hotel restaurants, for travel-weary guests. It can be a hopping place.
Although there are some slight chips in furniture and faded colors here and there, it adds to the sleepy, lived-in Italian villa sensibility. Overall, the hotel is quite clean.
The 182-room Villa Florence in Union Square admirably rises to the challenge of bringing Italy's culture and countryside to one of San Francisco's loudest, busiest, and most commercial districts. Rooms combine up-to-date technology with old-world style, but the hotel goes overboard on the Italian theme, and its amenities and services are uneven.
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