April 28th, 2008

Nepotism is a tricky word. The immediate connotations are quite negative. Images of spoiled sons being propped up in positions way beyond their ken, leaving the hardworking and the gifted to make their coffee, are potent. Some, even, may be tempted to look to our country’s highest office and sigh, thinking of just how far family connections can get a person.

But here is the counter-argument: Genetics! (Or upbringing. Nature, nurture; whatever you believe is what I’m talking about.) Someone once told our dear general manager that hiring within circles of families and friends is a safe practice because bright, intelligent people tend to be related to and friends with bright, intelligent people. Any small amount of investigation will show to what extent she took that advice to heart. We have mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, husbands and wives, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters and nearly every employee under 30 knew each other in high school. If one were feeling cynical, our beloved general manager could almost find herself being accused of laziness. But why be cynical when the result is a staff so full of warmth and energy? This hotel operates on a maze of interpersonal relationships, not unlike your average modern American family, and we have an extraordinary number of spare bedrooms for you to choose from the next time you’re in town.

April 24th, 2008

About four or five diet fads ago lowfat was the buzzword. I know you all remember it. At least I hope you do because I’m looking for a sense of community here as I, with no small amount of shame, confess to having treated lowfat diet guidelines, culled from the pages of Cosmo magazine and the like, as scripture for a portion of my teenage years. I think this is where I get to claim victimization by the aforementioned pop-culture manuals and thus be forgiven my stupidity! Pop-psychology is so great sometimes!

Anyway, the only reason to get into any of this is to remind you of frozen yogurt. The miracle dessert of the lowfat days, it could either be super-lowfat, or, gloriously, non-fat! I ate so much frozen yogurt! Sometimes it was awful, but I ate it anyway. It was guilt free and I was hungry! Luckily I found Yummi Yogurt. Their soft-serve yogurt was creamy and rich in a market where those qualities were not requisite. The flavors rotated daily and varied greatly, so there was always an element of surprise. The serving sizes were enormous which, if you are 14 and maintaining a very idiotic diet that leads you to believe that eating a gallon of frozen yogurt a day is a good idea, is just so great. The thing is that, even today, having rekindled my love affair with red meat and avocados, I still go to Yummi Yogurt. Crave it even. And lest I’ve led you to think this is just my personal obsession, drive by some warm night. There are lines out the door until they close at 10 every night in the summer, and it’s been that way for 15 years. Yummi Yogurt is not a fad!

April 20th, 2008

Being an employee of this great hotel is joyful, not to mention a pretty big honor. That’s common knowledge, I’d say. Still, pleased as they are with the jobs they have, most employees choose to take a couple of days off each week. Perhaps they have to have other experiences in the world to hold against the time they spend here and thus better illuminate the pleasure of the hours spent with us. Is there some other explanation I can’t think of?

I decided to take it up with Adam C., who spends no days away. Expecting to be blown away by the intensity of his commitment to you, our guests, I was surprised to instead hear stories about the zen of driving fast. Adam C., it turns out races cars, and racing cars is not an inexpensive pursuit. He works seven days a week, then spends all of his money, and what remains of his time, fixing the car he has and getting ready for the car he wants. The payoff, you ask? One hour a month of pure freedom. During the race, he says, his mind and body are reacting so fast, so instinctively, that it takes days for his conscious mind to catch up and remember what it did. Never have I looked at racing cars and thought of meditation, but so it is. Or, at least, I believe it is. If a man spends all his life in preparation for one hour out of every month, I do not doubt him when he tells me about the greatness of that hour!

He’s behind the front desk during the week and behind the bar on the weekends and he’s got something to say about inner peace that’s worth listening to, I promise.

April 15th, 2008

I assume I don’t have to sell San Francisco to any of you. Occasionally there’s a year where Paris is the most visited city in the world, in which case San Francisco comes in second, but mostly SF is the winner. Certainly there is no need for me to be doing its PR. What I want, this month, is to acknowledge the inevitability of your visit to the city by the bay and to help to steer you away from the almost equally inevitable sourdough bread bowl full of clam chowder on Fisherman’s Wharf.

If what you’re looking for is a culinary experience that is as quintessentially San Franciscan as the aforementioned dinnerware cum dinner proports to be, Café Gratitude is what you’re looking for. It’s all organic, all vegan, all raw and all full of the feel-good-hippie-love that is truly what this great city has to share with the world. The cleanliness and simplicity of the food feels, in these times of national health care crisis, almost revolutionary, if you’ll allow me to be so bold. There is a small catch, though: Each dish is named with a statement of self-worth. For example, a bowl of tofu and rice might be called “I am beautiful.” Meaning that if what you want is a bowl of a tofu and rice, you have to tell your waitperson that you are beautiful. Seriously. The fun game, though, is to sit at Café Gratitude and fantasize about the grease pit you’re going to put into the empty storefront across the street, serving deep-fried Twinkies that you’ll call “I am worthless.”

April 9th, 2008

Here’s a truly American name for you: Firestone. It connotes that quintessential American dream of entrepreneurship. Harvey Firestone, a century ago, came from a family of farmers and built a fortune making tires. This is the story that our country is supposedly uniquely capable of cultivating and we grew strong on the mythology of just such men as him. And now that people whisper about the decline of our great nation, the Firestone name is back again. Ah, reality television, do you really signal impending doom, or just make visible what was always there? Whatever the answer, Andrew Firestone took his family’s good name to The Bachelor, so that it now can remind one either of tires, or of gold-digging reality TV bimbos. Nice one, Andrew. Somewhere in the middle, though, the family started making wine. Actually, they were the first vinters to set up shop in Santa Barbara and they’ve made some award winning wines over the years. This is the America I want: a place where it’s possible to take a good idea and establish something rich and beautiful from it. Try a glass of Firestone wine, from the sweet spot of the American experience.