The Re-opening of the Historic Phoenix Hotel San Francisco, USA

Date: June 2018

Location: Tenderloin district, San Francisco, California, USA

Name: Opened as the Caravan Lodge. In 1987, Chip Conley took over the hotel (it was the hospitality legend’s first property) and revived it as the Phoenix – two star.

Owner: Two decades later, sensing it was time for the Phoenix to, well, rise again, Conley (Joie de Vivre Hospitality and was Head of Global Hospitality and Strategy for Airbnb for a couple of years) reached out to Liz Lambert, his friend and mentee and brought her and Bunkhouse company on-board.

No. of Keys: 44

There are the majors, chain-owned, so when it comes to smaller boutique-y hotels that have a real sense of place… it’s pretty slim pickings.

But, with the re-opening of the historic Phoenix Hotel this month, Texas-based hotelier Liz Lambert and her hospitality group, Bunkhouse, hope to change this.

Lambert has a knack for creating hotels that capture the soul of a place, channelling what’s groovy and special about a location and then adding her own brand of cool.

She did this with the Hotel Saint Cecilia in Austin, a space that feels spot-on for America’s indie music motherland but with just enough Texas badass to keep it from feeling overtly hipster; and El Cosmico, which, along with the ghost of Donald Judd, has become a sort of dog whistle to aesthete wanderers, calling them to the high desert of Marfa, Texas.

And she did it recently in Mexico with Hotel San Cristobal in the Baja town of Todos Santos, tapping into the preexisting surfer and expat artist scene and creating a hotel where every cool kid wants to hang, eat fish tacos and sip small batch mezcal.

Now, she’s doing it again with the Phoenix, in San Francisco’s (still sort of seedy but changing) Tenderloin district.

The property has stayed faithful to its rock n’ roll ties, with vintage concert posters in the rooms and an impressive onsite record collection.

Unlike many of Lambert’s past projects, the Phoenix did have a head start in the cool department.

It opened as the Caravan Lodge, one of those very mid-century Americana motor court hotels, in 1956.

Over the years, it became the place where every touring musician camped out when they were in town—the Great American Music Hall is around the corner and, maybe more importantly, it had the rare onsite parking lot big enough for a tour bus to park overnight. Everyone stayed, from David Bowie to Neil Young to Kurt Cobain, and everyone, it seems, has a pretty juicy—if not somewhat fuzzy—story about the place.

Lambert and her team left much that was great about the property alone.

They kept the footprint—44 guest rooms around a central courtyard pool (one of only two land-marked swimming pools in the country)—as is, and, thankfully, left the huge neon sign advertising “hotel, restaurant, cocktails” in place.

While rooms got a total refresh—minimal and clean with lots of colourful textiles and bright, poppy accents like neon art installations on the walls and electric blue custom headboards and desks—the Phoenix’s rock n’ roll ties remain strong: The lobby was redone with wood paneling that makes it feel like a 70s recording studio, vintage concert posters abound, the “wall of fame” where musicians have been leaving their band stickers for decades is still there, and the onsite restaurant Chambers Eat+Drink has a damn good record collection.

No doubt the Phoenix, which is still a stone’s throw from many of the city’s best music venues, will continue to be the place where touring rockers make hazy memories—but Lambert’s thoughtful coolification has made it a place where the rest of us want to stay, too.

THPT Comment: Thank goodness there are still a number of off-beat hotel-owners, designers and managers that have a place for nostalgia and all it stands for.

First Seen: Conde Nast Traveller