If I have learnt one thing in life, it is this: some stories are just too unbelievable to put into writing. The plots make no sense, even when they are 100% real. That’s why I don’t gamble…..much.
When I left Singapore, 12 hours earlier, Hillary Rodham Clinton was a shoe-in to retake the White House on behalf of the Clinton clan. She probably had her tape measure in one hand and an olive wreath half-hovering and vibrating in the other. She was expecting victory. I was expecting a porcelain smile. But neither were meant to be.
Her minions of fawning fans would not writhe in orgasmic adulation. There would be no Democratic tooting of horns in California. America had voted her into oblivion. Donald Trump had trounced the pundits and the population with a tumultuous victory. He had wrenched the crown away. “Stolen it,” some would say.
I was arriving to a knock-out dirge, not a laid-back party.
And here is the irony. I was returning to the USA as a seasoned ex-political reporter. This was once my beat!
I thought my arrival would be a soft, inconceivable splash rather than a dollop of slap-in-the-face sludge. I expected to be bored rigid with the election spins, but oh no, not this time.
Total Shell Shock
I tried to keep my mortification to myself, but that was hard. Seemingly every American I met, from pilots to taxi drivers, all felt as if they had to apologise to me.
For the masses, the election was a total travesty; a complete lapse in national judgement. I was left to shrug my shoulders in a sympathetic “better-luck-next-time” condescension, even though this just whizzed over their heads and into the impalpable ether space.
What I said was of no consequence. It simply didn’t matter. Americans had been rocked. They didn’t care. I was just a whipping block, with no face; the object of grief and pain. A lowly foreigner.
I think I had a handkerchief dangling over my back with a big white X marked on it!
I was grateful to arrive at the Intercontinental San Francisco.
A Welcome Arrival at the Intercontinental San Francisco
I rushed the late check-in process. I was tired. The lobby was modern, unclutterd; a blur. I just wanted to unwind.
I headed for the Intercontinental Club Lounge upstairs, but, wow, what a difference to Asia. It felt like I’d been spun backwards into a time warp. Dumped into a small 1980s corporate lounge where three women were the only company.
The first woman was gushing about how great the hotel was. Trump was three-glasses removed from her mind. She was at the end of a tortuous solo night with her best friend, “Chateau Le Rouge”. I was concerned for Apple Inc the next day!
I discreetly pardoned myself to the other side of the lounge to hedge against any amorous intentions and was surprised to see a giant TV blaring out morbid details of Hillary’s destruction. It was quite loud. Two good-looking ladies sat side by side, clutching big glasses of red wine, eyes glued to the screen. They were in a funereal silence, tearful and shell-shocked.
Donald Trump had just ruined their date night by winning.
As so the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” I went downstairs to the ground floor to seek out life from Bar 888. Surely there had to be more soul to this place!
There was nothing old or daggy here. It was edgy and inviting. A smattering of punters were likewise glued to the overhanging screen as CNN repeated again and again the gloom and bile that California hated to hear: Trump had won. The bar sort of burbled in unison, muttering silent dissent into their glasses, whilst I sort of semi-shrugged it off.
Two minutes later, I’m talking to some grey-haired man on the stool next to me. He was making more sense.
“The writing was on the wall,” he boomed in a very Jack Nicholson way. “No one wanted to believe me. They should have listened.”
I asked him if he was there to drown his sorrows, but he deflected that wild guess. “I’m here with a Christian missionary group,” he replied.
I gulped apologetically whilst he smiled and nonchalantly waved away that thought.
“I use to be a mercenary in Africa. I’ve done a lot of bad things. Then one day I woke up and found God.”
I reached for my wrist to feel a pulse. I was now really confused. Republican versus Democrat, gay versus straight, killer versus preacher, Trump versus Clinton. And I’d only been in the US for four hours!
Where the heck was Elvis when I needed him?
(Probably drinking red wine with Jesus, I thought)
It I ever needed a sign, then here it was. Time to prick this illusion with a giant pin and head for my room.
This is where I’m a total sucker. I always fall in love with Intercontinental hotels, because their beds are amazing. Sure, I was jet-lagged, but wow, what a wonderfully soft place to snuggle up into. It was the one thing I really craved the most after flying for so many hours.
My room was small compared to my previous stay in Singapore though spotlessly clean. More Western in feel and demeanour with non-descript beige and brown neutral colours. Slightly more Spartan and muted than its Eastern contemporaries, which tend to lean towards vibrancy and opulence more, especially in the bathroom department.
True to Intercontinental form, a welcome card was on the table with my name inked across the front. It was propped against a complimentary bottle of Evian water and an array of light snacks, arranged in three small, white square dishes.
In the hallway, a cupboard housed a thin, flat safety deposit box with a token clutch of hangars you can’t steal. A luggage rack was folded away which made we wonder why? Surely when you enter a room, you want it there, prised open, ready for your suitcase? Or should we throw our dirty suitcases onto the fresh, new linen first and then get the rack out of the closet?
As far as in-room entertainment, I’m more of a “news junky” than a movie watcher and I do appreciate having a large, 42-inch screen on the wall because I often click on the TV, more for background noise than serious viewing. And I’ve grown fond of the looping Intercontinental in-house promotions that are always playing when you arrive.
Yet the other toys are wasted on me: an iPod-ready alarm clock. Why? I barely have time to adjust to different time zone, let alone bring a sound system with me! But the Nespresso coffee machine is a total winner, as is the mini bar. I use to revile mini bars but now I appreciate time saving efficiencies like a beer at your beck and call.
I didn’t realise the magnitude of my view from the Intercontinental San Francisco at night time, which sort of dissipated into darkness after being dazzled by in-your-face Bloomingdales signage . But when dawn broke, everything sprung to life.
At first the view was shrouded in fog, but once the sun started to beat down, it quickly lifted and shifted towards Oakland with the thermal drift. Blue sky filled the heavens with the odd wisp of lingering cirrus clouds streaking past. I can’t put my finger on it but I was overcome with nostalgia. I was looking at the old America I once knew. Long blocks of brick buildings and warehouses. Roads that ran in grid lines. It was a feeling I can’t explain.
The bathroom was nothing flash, yet in keeping with the overall feel, daubed with beige colours and neural tiles. Pristine bath sheets and hand towels were folded and hanging ready for use.
Normally I gravitate towards a hotel bathroom, as if to get some barometric reading for the quality of the room and my pending experience. Here, I left without a second glance or lasting impression. It was neither good nor bad. I don’t even remember what amenity selection they had. I normally pay attention to the quality of shower gels and shampoos.
The Exterior of the Intercontinental San Francisco
It takes daylight to fully comprehend this towering, 32-floor, turquoise glass building that houses 550 rooms. In some parts, it looks a lot like the front radiator grill on a metallic blue Cadillac. In other parts, it emulates giant dormer windows or a pleated accordion.
It definitely stands out and you know what, it may look out of place today, but just wait. One day she will be surrounded by others that follow her path in modern design. In my opinion she breathes life into an otherwise drab and commercial neighbourhood.
You can’t compare apples and oranges when it comes to cross-matching Club Intercontinental lounges in Asia with their brethren in North America. For US standards, the Intercontinental San Francisco is pretty decent and definitely spot on for service. I barely had to flinch and someone was at my side attending to me and it does offer a degree of exclusivity, requiring room key access. My only confusion was why it was on the 6th floor? The hotel offers stunning views from above and I fear this aspect has been wasted by sandwiching the Club Lounge so close to the ground floor. If I had my will and magic wand, I’d move it to the top floor like with other hotels of its calibre.
As far as food choices, the offerings were a minimal spread both in the evening and the morning and incomparable to my recent stays in Asia. Breakfast was a DIY affair that could have been an out-take from any hotel or motel. It lacked Intercontinental personality which is why I headed to the lobby restaurant for my invitation buffet breakfast.
For the deal-conscious, the Club Lounge serves complimentary drinks and cocktails between 7.30pm and 11.30pm. My first experience was enough of a lesson. With barely a soul there, it was, excuse the pun, “soulless”.
Named after the hotel’s street address, Bar 888 has the best vibe in the Intercontinental San Francisco and although it is not large, it is cozy. The bar is shaped like a galley kitchen with access on three sides, all of which offer padded bar stools. Above and to the side are brightly lit shelves of spirits and a big selection of wines.
Breakfast in the Lobby
What a contrast from the Club Lounge! Down here the place was jamming with people. The normal English breakfast offerings (eggs, bacon, sausage, beans, etc) were ample and if you don’t mind me saying, I did more than one circuit around the bain maries. The quality of the selections was superb and the coffee a winner.
My Final Comment
The Intercontinental San Francisco is a corporate hotel, no question. Everything is geared for speed and efficiency, over pleasure and relaxation. And to that end, it deserves heaps of respect and positive comments. It serves its function brilliantly.
My stay was too short to fully digest what the hotel has to offer, but I did do a full inspection of all facilities. The external patios are perfect for entertainment and the conference facilities top-notch. The lap pool and gym are great for those “on the run”.
She is famed for her Michelin rated restaurant Luce, yet sadly, this too I never got to try. Next time may be.