Up in the Air, Up in the Clouds at San Francisco's Newest Hotel
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 2020 -- It takes guts to open a hotel inside the 48-story spire at 222 Sansome Street in San Francisco, a city gripped by pandemic and hobbled by an array of social and economic issues that predate the Coronavirus.
         Two hotels have already exited the building. The property opened in 1986 as a super-luxurious Mandarin Oriental and became a slightly-less-luxe Loews Regency in 2015. The property closed last year just before the world first heard the term Covid-19.
         Half the city's existing lodgings are still closed, according to the Hotel Council of San Francisco.
         Citywide occupancy at properties that are operating is just 34 percent, down from 86 percent at this time last year, according to hotel statisticians STR. Many occupied rooms are filled with homeless people placed there by San Francisco's government.
         Due to Coronavirus rules, hotels can't have restaurants, bars or room service until at least 2021.

Don't tell any of this to Robert Megargle. He already knows it all. But he also needs to look on the bright side since he's general manager of the Four Seasons Embarcadero, the new occupant of the top 11 floors of 222 Sansome.

Originally expected to debut in May, Megargle got the first 66 refurbished accommodations open at the Four Seasons Embarcadero on October 1. That's fewer than half the 155 rooms available at the top of the tower. The others are expected to come online next year when food and beverage operations may resume. Megargle won't say how many of his current inventory of 66 rooms are occupied, but the property was eerily quiet when I visited and I found no sold-out days when I spot-checked booking options at FourSeasons.com.

Still, the newest hotel in town has its advantages: spectacular, sky-high views; a fitness center that rivals a posh, private athletic club; and, of course, the Four Seasons cachet and its devoted following. Another plus: The city's other Four Seasons property, about a half-mile away at 757 Market Street, isn't expected to reopen until April. That means Megargle's property is the only game in town for travelers looking for Four Seasons panache and pampering.

The Embarcadero version is extremely contemporary. One dark brown banquette anchors the highly masculine lobby with generous splashes of marble and a color palette of earth tones, grays and blacks. Instead of a front desk, there are four check-in/check-out stations. A single stylish sculpture stands in the circular end of the lobby.

Guestrooms are either "bay view" or "city view"--and both views are breathtaking. Room décor is elegant and modern and repeats the crisp color notes and marble used in the lobby. There are lots of in-room conveniences, too, including wireless chargers; side tables festooned with electrical outlets compatible with any device; 55-inch smart TVs; and stylish work tables rather than traditional desks. Handmade wool rugs cover natural wooden floors. Bathrooms range from large to king-size, including a windowed version with a tub large enough to host a small cocktail party.

Megargle has done something clever with the renovations. For couples or colleagues working on the road, he turned two corner suites into two workspaces with privacy and an in-the-clouds outdoor patio instead of traditional living room/bedroom combinations. They also double as presidential suites.

Even though the Four Seasons Embarcadero has a prime financial district locale, Megargle and his crew are also targeting leisure travelers and vacationers, such as they are today. By Four Seasons and San Francisco standards, rates are modest, too, another sign of the Coronavirus times. Prices for 350-square-foot rooms are as low as $428 a night the week after Thanksgiving. Parking is $69 a night.

Megargle knows the city and the Four Seasons style and he wasn't imported from some out-of-town property. Before taking over the Embarcadero property, he was hotel manager at Four Seasons on Market Street. Megargle's reassignment and promotion is less of a surprise when you realize that Westbrook Partners, a Florida-based real estate firm, owns both of San Francisco's Four Seasons properties.

The new hotel has caught the eye of several of San Francisco's savviest hotel consultants.

"The key to an exceptionally successful luxury hotel is your ability to make it your community's luxury club," says Rick Swig. "Loews was never able to duplicate that Regency cachet they have in New York." Swig also says it will be "very interesting how [Four Seasons] differentiates" the two properties.

A bigger challenge, he adds, is not having in-house food and beverages available until next year. "When someone checks into a Ritz-Carlton, a St. Regis or a Four Seasons, they expect and demand hot and cold running services. That's why you are paying top dollar. You want chicken soup at midnight, you get it."

Atmosphere Research consultant Henry Harteveldt considers the Four Seasons Embarcadero to have an "excellent" location, closer to the city's traditional financial district than its Market Street sibling.

Still, he says, tradition is no longer a perfect guide.

"There is a risk in opening a hotel, not just during the pandemic, but at a time when it's uncertain when people will return to work in their office."