In a few of our cities, we've started doing some "Celebrity Weekly Yelps," to much success and fanfare. When tasked with trying one out for the Bay Area, Chip Conley, the CEO of Joie de Vivre boutique Hotels, immediately came to mind. What follows are the questions I threw at him and his enthusiastic responses right back. As you can see, the guy loves the Bay Area:
What’s your idea of a perfect 24 hours in San Francisco? My perfect 24 hours would likely be on the unofficial day of rest, Sunday. I’d jump out of bed and catch a free early morning yoga class in the penthouse studio at the Hotel Vitale (only open to guests), get cleaned up and join some friends at Glide Memorial Church for one of their “only in San Francisco” celebrations in the rough and tumble Tenderloin. I especially like bringing out of towners here as it really provides an insight into what this city is all about: big heart, diversity, innovation, and quirky traditions. Before we chow down, I would get the heart rate up of my companions as we would climb three hills: (1) the hill from Glide to Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill (to see how the other half lives as they put on a beautiful, ceremonial service in such a European-style setting); (2) we’d drive over to the SF Art Institute which is perched on the side of Russian Hill with its severe Italianate architecture, breath-taking views of the bay, and eclectic art everywhere; and (3) we could walk up to Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower from there so that we could walk down the rickety Filbert Steps on the east side of the hill, one of the most charming and hidden parts of San Francisco (and where I lived for my first 6 years in SF – on Napier Lane). After all that exercise, it’s time to feast. We’d traverse on over to Foreign Cinema in the Mission (where we can take our dog Sugar Ray) to lunch in the open courtyard and experience this restaurant’s delectable and constantly changing brunch menu. Finally, we’d end the afternoon with a spin to El Rio’s sun-splashed back courtyard for some salsa dancing and some Latin libations.
Where would you take someone from out of town? What makes San Francisco unique? The ultimate corner to get a flavor of the uniqueness of San Francisco? It would have to be Café Flore at the corner of Market and Noe. First off, this little café is relatively cheap but knows how to feed ya. More importantly, the multi-ethnic, multi-sexual, multi-everything crowd makes for good people watching. I’ve tried writing some of my books here, but have always gotten distracted.
Where is a place (or service) or two you would like to keep undiscovered but can’t resist telling people about? Café Gratitude, at 20th and Harrison (there’s 4 locations in the Bay Area), is hard to remain silent about. On the surface, it looks like just a hippy-dippy raw food restaurant but it’s really more than that. First off, the food is plentiful, healthy and damn good. But, I just love the idea that the laid-back service staff asks you a provocative question of the day once you’ve made your order like “What is your calling in life?” or “Why are these people you’re having a meal with important to you?” If you were looking to talk about the weather, this isn’t your kind of restaurant. Furthermore, all of the menu items have titles like affirmations like a special spritzer drink is “I am effervescent” so when the servers bring your food, they also grace you with some positive feedback like “You are effervescent”, “You are wise,” and “You are bountiful.” So, who needs parking validation when you can get this kind of soulful validation with your meal?!
The holidays are approaching, where might we see Chip Conley shopping? I do my best to hide out from the crowds around the holidays so even though my office is a block from Union Square, you’re more likely to see me shopping at MAC or Alabaster in Hayes Valley, at Under One Roof in the Castro, or at George in Pacific Heights.
Favorite Dinner Spot for a special occasion, dinner with friends, to impress a client, to eat at alone, to people watch? If it’s a small, high expense account dinner, it’s got to be Gary Danko as the combination of style, ambience, taste, and friendliness can’t be beat by the more formal comparable top-of-the-line dining destinations. For a little dinner for four, we enjoy going out to the avenues and noshing at Pizzetta 211 with their Neopolitan style pizas and incredibly healthy local salads. I’m known to eat alone at Isobune Sushi – the place where the toy boats offer you sushi as they go around an oblong river – before going to the Kabuki Springs & Spa for the communal baths and a massage. Keep an eye on Japantown as between the two new hotels (Tomo and Kabuki), Sundance’s new Kabuki movie theater with better art house offerings, a Japanese Pop Culture building that’s soon coming, and a renaissance of the mall in the planning, this could become the ultimate people watching spot in SF.
Have a favorite cocktail, where is it poured? For a number of years (15 to be specific), I didn’t drink alcohol. That’s a long story, but during that time I made sure our team at Millennium restaurant created the coolest non-alcoholic drink menu in the city. As for alcohol, Bourbon & Branch which is just a block away can get me knocked up silly pretty quickly with their stiff, “old school” drinks.
Have any favorite hotels??? How do I answer that considering we operate 19 hotels in San Francisco? Let me give you two quick getaway hotels that are within an hour of the city. The Hotel Los Gatos feels like a Mediterranean villa, has an amazing Greek restaurant in it (Dio Deka), and is a short stroll to shopping. The Kenwood Inn in Sonoma has a similar feeling with waterfalls falling into two pools, a pond with a waterwheel, a great French-products spa, and spectacular views of the vineyards.
Any places that you see both tourists and locals interacting in perfect harmony? How can you go wrong with the Ferry Building on Saturdays between 8 and 2 with the west coast’s most vibrant Farmer’s Market? This is San Francisco's Town Square – the place you run into all kinds of folks you haven’t seen in awhile. It’s a great place for a tourist to feel like a local and to tap into all of what SF has to offer: water views, amazing food, the historic F-line trolleys and jaw-dropping views of downtown, and the bourgeois bohemian nature of this groovy Mayberry RFD by the bay.