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Pampering with thoughtful touches

November 13, 2005|John M. Glionna | Times Staff Writer

NOW and then, lucky travelers stumble upon a hotel that's better than home -- one so attendant to their whims that they don't want to check out. Or for that matter, even go to sleep.

The Hotel Vitale on San Francisco's Embarcadero is such a place. This boutique establishment, opened in March by hotelier Chip Conley, founder of Bay Area-based Joie de Vivre Hospitality, has 191 guest rooms and eight suites, each its own pocket of serenity.

Conley has called the place "post-hip," no hangout for those who like to see and be seen. It's a study in understatement. The decor is all beige and earth tones; the hallways are scented in lavender; the flat-screen TVs in the elevators show soothing nature scenes. There are massages and rooftop soaking tubs available for a fee and free yoga classes.

The Vitale is so Zen-like, it's the hotel version of a long, hot bath. Except I couldn't take a bath in my standard room. (More on that later.)

Bunking down: I opened the door and felt at peace. The room wasn't huge -- standard rooms range from 310 to 395 square feet -- but the fluffy bathrobes and extra-comfortable bed get you in the mood to relax. For those who come to work, there's a wide desk space. My room had only a sliver of a bay view, so instead I checked out the flat-screen TV and personal CD player.

The bathroom features a great selection of Fresh soaps and lotions and a nice shower, but no bathtub for those inclined to recline. Strangely, there's also no dresser or in-room coffeemaker.

But there is twice-daily maid service, as well as a turn-down service with bottled water and chocolate, not to mention 24-hour room service.

What I liked most about the Vitale is that it sweats the small stuff: In the morning I received a card with the day's weather, and the morning paper was delivered in a nifty sack hung from the door handle. I didn't even have to bend down to pick it up.

Hanging around: The Vitale features outdoor terraces off the fifth and eighth floors where the views of San Francisco Bay are stupendous. I lucked out with a sunny day and spent a few hours, just watching the sailboats glide past. For you hotel cognoscenti, the Art Deco lobby is done up in white limestone and marble floors, and there's ample space to hang out and relax with a novel or the newspaper.

Going out: For those who always stay in the crowded Theater District, the Vitale offers a breath of fresh air. Because it's on the Embarcadero, guests can jog or walk along the water to SBC Park. Across the street is the city's lushly redeveloped Ferry Building.

When you get hungry, there's the Cafe Americano downstairs at the Vitale, where you can eat outside at picnic table. Our waitress said the place was a "meat market" on Friday nights, not necessarily in the spirit of post-hip.

My wife, Lily, and I took a walk to a place called the Cosmopolitan, which wasn't crowded and the food was reasonably priced.

Peeve: My one serious complaint about the Vitale -- and it's a large one -- is the cost of parking. One night runs a whopping $47. "But there are in-and-out privileges," the front desk guy told me. Thanks. You know, in cities like Buffalo, N.Y., $47 is a monthly mortgage payment.

I schlepped my car to a public garage a few blocks away but had to move it at 6 p.m. that Saturday. Worrying about having to move the car undermined the vibe.


Hotel Vitale, 8 Mission St., San Fran-cisco; (415) 278-3700,; $269 for a standard room to $699 for a deluxe panoramic suite.

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