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Published on Friday, October 19, 2018

Keeping it in the family

Rachel Roberts checks into the refurbed The Handlery Union Square Hotel, San Francisco, and enjoys the family vibe.

First impressions: This hotel has been hiding her light under a bushel. The modest cream facade, crisscrossed with industrial fire-escape ladders, gives no clue as to the delightful interior that awaits guests. Step inside and you'll discover that a recent multi-million-dollar refurbishment, updating all 377 bedrooms, has made The Handlery one seriously classy joint. Neutral, understated tones hark back to the hotel's halcyon days, when founder Harry Handlery first opened the doors for business in 1948. It joined a clutch of other hotels, purchased in the 1930s, as part of Harry's bold vision to offer a calming cocoon to American service men on leave from the war and in in desperate need of some R&R. Today, it's a bustling cosmopolitan hotel where the revolving door is in perpetual motion as never-ending stream of tourists come and go. The Handlery continues to be a family affair. Harry's grandson Jon is at the helm as general manager and his wife Margaret is the interior designer responsible for the stylish makeover. A fourth generation of siblings - Laura, Jack and Catherine - are involved in the running of the place too, proudly carrying their great grandfather's legacy into the future. Hawaii - along with Australia - are two of the key visitor markets for the hotel. Apparently, the Hawaiians love the welcoming family vibe so much they often return the following year weighed down with gifts for the hotel staff.

Art Deco has been given a modern reboot throughout The Handlery, and fans of Americana will swoon over the old-school silver push-button phones in the lobby, the ice machines on every floor and the valet parking service, where you're given a hand-written check-in note (although you may smart at the steep prices - see below). The refurb has proved a savvy move: when Travelmole checked in during early summer, the hotel was gearing up to accommodate a three-day Facebook conference, with technology giant Apple not long after. A regular influx of Silicone Valley dollars will certainly help the hotel's accountants rest easy at night.

Location: As with many major cities, the smart districts often rub shoulders with their slightly 'grittier' neighbours, and The Handlery straddles both. Affluent Union Square (aka tourist central) is to the east and the Tenderloin district, where some of the city's more 'colourful' characters hang out, is to the west, giving a fascinating snapshot of the city's kaleidoscopic personality. Handily, The Handlery is perfectly situated to allow you to be the first in the queue for the open-air tourist bus that takes off around the city daily from around 9am. The start point is practically across the road, and the trip takes in the main attractions including the Golden Gate Bridge and the renowned Haight~Ashbury neighbourhood, home to the birth of the hippy movement in the sixties. It's also steps away from the iconic Powell Street cable line - jump onboard for an unforgettable - and at times hair-rising ride up and down the city's famed vertiginous streets.

Rooms: Choose from 284 historic section rooms or 93 premier section rooms; some of which feature balconies overlooking the pool, or city views. Eight family suites are available too; this includes the Garden Suite - nicknamed 'Grandma's Room' in honour of Jon Handlery's grandmother, a long-term guest.

Facilities: They're proud of the retro motel-style outdoor swimming pool, filled with salt water instead of harsh chlorine, and heated to 80 degrees. And rightly so: it's a cool oasis in the thrumming city, a place you half expect to see Mad Men's Don Draper, poolside, kicking back with a large scotch on the rocks. The hotel is dog-friendly too, if you've got a four-legged sidekick.

Wining and dining: The Daily Grill, found on the ground floor and with views of the sidewalk, is an independently-owned American brasserie-style restaurant. Pop in here for a breakfast of dinner-plate-sized buttermilk pancakes with blueberries, maple syrup and bacon, and you could be joined by locals grabbing a bite before work. The walls are lined with black and white photos if you fancy an engaging history lesson. Or, have a a cool San Fran experience by popping into any number of the grills in the neighbouring Tenderloin district. Bag a stool at the counter and watch your eggs being made 'over-easy', while the server replenishes your coffee.

Highs: The super-friendly family-style hospitality, despite the size of the place. The Handlery was originally two hotels, to give you some idea of dimensions. It's also a perfect location for tourists; a 30-minute taxi drive from the airport and bam! - you're in the heart of the action.

Lows: The old-school coffee filter coffee machines in the rooms, that appear to have escaped from a 1970s dinner party. They're a little incongruous in the elegant setting and barely heat the water. It's a small oversight, but one that needs to be rectified. The steep parking costs although, to be fair, it's a city-wide situation.

The verdict: Perfect for San Fran first timers, couples and business types. Ghost hunters might want to ask to stay in the rooms bearing the number 7. Rumours swirl about otherworldly visitors. Shoppers will love it, too - there are four floors of retail heaven to be had in department store Maceys, practically next door.

Prices for a double room begin at £163.


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