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, but retro-inspired guest rooms, the unique, SoCal-style courtyard pool, and happening on-site nightlife keep the hip crowd happy.
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. 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.
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.
Seedy surrounding area
Limited dining options in the immediate area
A few blocks from Union Square, a major transportation hub known for high-end shopping
Six blocks from Civic Center Station, a stop for both Muni Metro (streetcars) and BART (electric trains) connecting many areas in the San Francisco Bay area; no easy access to cable car lines
Retro-inspired guest rooms are hip, with flat-screen TVs, coffeemakers, and iPod docking stations
Rooms at the Phoenix are retro-inspired, with funky decor touches that make it look like a rocker's bedroom. The 44 rooms and suites are relatively small for San Francisco (245 to 500 square feet), but have comfortable beds, flat-screen TVs, and iPod docking stations, and range from standard Double Double Rooms to suites that have refrigerators and microwaves. Some rooms have curtains with prints of antique gramophones or studded leather jackets. Bathrooms are basic, with blue-tiled showers and basic toiletries. 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. The iPod docks do have built-in noise machines. Coffeemakers, in-room safes, and desks with chairs are standard.
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.
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