Back in 1928, if the original designers of San Francisco’s iconic Sir Francis Drake hotel had been able to look into the future, they would have done one thing differently. They would have built the Beacon Grand.
The Sir Francis Drake, one of the city’s most beloved landmark hotels, has reopened as part of an ongoing makeover that hotel officials say will “maintain the authenticity” of the grand dame hotel, but also add a host of modern amenities, inventive new public spaces and, of course, a new name.
And while the new name — a nod to the historical hotel’s status as a “social circle at Union Square” — is the most outwardly obvious change, the physical renovations and innovations inside are the bigger story. It’s not so much an update as an upgrade of the original Drake, with an eye on preserving the past while prepping for the future.
Longtime devotees as well as new guests of the iconic 418-room hotel will appreciate the grandeur that attracted 10,000 visitors to the initial two-day opening in October 1928, including the grand central staircase to the lobby, the trio of majestic chandeliers, the 30-foot ceilings, and the original marble flooring that has been traversed by millions of guests, including some of the biggest celebrities, luminaries and dignitaries of the past century.
The top goal of the renovation, according to Kraig Kalashian of hospitality design and architecture studio KKAD, has been to celebrate the original craftsmanship and grandeur of the Renaissance Revival property while making better use of the public spaces, some of which were under-appreciated or hidden over time. “One’s procession through the Beacon Grand is one through history, evoking the grandeur of the 1920s and ‘30s when hotels were ‘cathedrals of travel,’” said Kalashian. “There is a unique drama
created by the multiple levels of public spaces and the grand staircases connecting them. Our work has focused on accentuating this drama.”
Among the changes to the Beacon Grand’s public spaces is the relocation of the cocktail bar from the main lobby so that the space can be an airy and elegant-yet-comfortable introduction to the hotel, like a well-appointed living room, and so that the mezzanine upstairs can become the Beacon Lounge, a new bar-centric culinary concept, and The Library, an intimate social space with bartender-butlers and its own collection of select productions and vintages of bourbon, single malts, and ryes. (Because the hotel
was built at the height of Prohibition, the original designers included a purpose-built “Prohibition Room” above the lobby, accessible by a trick elevator, that isn’t on any blueprints but that will continue to exist as a nod to the hotel’s naughty history.)
The Beacon Lounge menu will feature “modern interpretations of classic San Francisco dishes,” as well as dishes that represent the city’s influence on American favorites. The lounge, which is intended to be the transitioning “heart of the hotel,” will offer service, cuisine and atmosphere for three meals a day, as well as a beverage menu that showcases a broad range from craft cocktails to California’s best wines to highly sought after craft beers from some of the region’s best breweries.
Future developments will include a French Brasserie in what was Scala Bistro, spearheaded by the minds behind Left Bank and chef Roland Passot of the famed Michelin-starred La Folie, and an upgraded and reimagined Starlight Room atop the hotel that’s scheduled to reopen in early 2023. After World War II, the Starlight Room was among the crown jewels of sophisticated nightlife in San Francisco and a nearly constant hangout out for the city’s celebrity set. The venue today will be reimagined by hospitality design group Bill Rooney Studio. “Starlight deserves to be a quintessential San Francisco destination once again,” stated Bill Rooney. “We are so excited to be crafting the rebirth of such an iconic venue.”
When it first opened, the Sir Francis Drake was celebrated in the media as “The last word in hotels” and boasted extravagant amenities including an indoor golf course, ice water on tap, and radios in every guest room. The property was immensely popular for its elegance, decor, and proximity to both Union Square and the iconic cable cars that pass by on Powell Street, just steps from the hotel’s front doors and affable doormen in Beefeater uniforms.
Guests today will find that the rooms and suites have been “renovated down to the studs” to reflect contemporary sensibilities, but with notable nods to the history, from European Oak hardwood floors to custom-made wallpapers that feature iconic images of San Francisco. All of the furniture and furnishings have been updated, both for comfort as well as for creating more space and better flow. Other modern upgrades include improved wi-fi throughout the building, a lending library, a fitness studio with cardio and strength-training machinery, Illy espresso and coffee machines, a pillow menu, and complimentary refillable water bottles with refill stations on every floor.
Among the other innovations is the reinventing of the concierge role with “Social Hosts,” staff specially trained to act as guides for directing guests “from street to star,” a reference to the hotel’s famous roof- topping decoration. According to hotel officials, Social Hosts will act as “equal parts concierge, impresario, co-conspirator, and connector,” welcoming guests into San Francisco’s diverse possibilities.
As it did back in the Sir Francis Drake’s original heyday, the Beacon Grand will again play host to the city’s celebrations, from intimate gatherings to epic galas in its 17,000 square feet of renovated event space that now features new high-quality finishes and fixtures to match the majesty of the building.
Among the visible flourishes at the new Beacon Grand will be an art program, curated by Kevin Barry Art Advisory, that will introduce mixed media from artists from around the globe to the guest rooms and suites, as well as collections of works by local artists in the public spaces chosen to “spark conversation about the city and its wealth of creative minds.
For additional information, please visit www.beacongrand.com.