Standing strong since 1926 and celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, Intercontinental Mark Hopkins is a true California Original. We went on a tour of the hotel and to meet Dan Sotelo, the Head Concierge who’s been making guests happy for over 40 years.
On it’s opening day on December 4th, 1926 San Franciscans declared the Mark Hopkins to be “architecturally perfect, flawless in its erection, comprehensive in its accommodations… strikingly representative of the best here is in modern hostelry”. And it still represents all these things even a century later.
Before it became a world-class hotel, it was known as the Mark Hopkins Mansion, built by Mark Hopkins, a member of *the Big Four, in 1878. The enormous house had forty rooms and reassembled a Gothic palace. The prime location among other wealthy properties on Nob Hill made the Mark Hopkins Maison an architectural gem. Unfortunately, the Mansion was destroyed by the fire that followed the 1906 earthquake. Less than one year after the earthquake, the Art Association ( now San Francisco Art Institute), who has owned the building since 1891 constructed a temporary, modest, wooden building on the foundations of Mark Hopkins.
One evening on his stroll through the neighborhood in 1910, hotel investor and mining engineer, George D. Smith had a far grander vision for this remarkable piece of land. He said to his friend, ” Someday, I’m going to build a hotel there.”
And so it happened that he purchased the land from the Art Association in 1926 and started building his masterpiece. Since its opening, The Mark Hopkins has always been a San Francisco landmark and integral part of the rich and colorful history of the City by the Bay. In 1939 the Top of the Mark, a 360-degree bar lounge opened its door in the former 11-rooms suite on the 19th floor. Top of the Mark offers some of the most spectacular views of San Francisco, a unique Martini & cocktail menu, small snacks and piano tunes to make those breathtaking sunsets even more unforgettable. Today the Mark Hopkins belongs to the InterContinental Group, making it company’s oldest hotel in the US.
For everyone who is looking to enjoy a piece of classic and traditional San Francisco, this is your destination — whether you book yourself room for a weekend getaway, enjoy cocktails at the Top f the Mark or delicious dinner at the Nob Hill Club.
We were also so fortunate to meet Dan Sotelo, the Head Concierge at the InterContinental Mark Hopkins, who’s been at the hotel for over 40 years. Amazing, right? So yes, you bet he knows a thing or two about San Francisco. Read our interview with him; these are tips you don’t want to miss.
Intercontinental Mark Hopkins is celebrating its 90th anniversary, that’s quite a time in business. What does it mean to you to work for such established hotel?
Well, I have always enjoyed my job. I started out in the elevator; I was a bellboy, a doorman then I moved to the front desk, and from the front desk I was going to become a manager. I had the opportunity to go to Japan for 18 months, to become a manager, but after that time, when I came back home I realized I didn’t want to work 20 hours a day and sacrifice my family life. I just got married and started to raise a family, that was important to me. But you know, I always liked the property, it’s something I grew up with as a young man and been hooked ever since. I drive up the hill every day; I feel good coming to work. Every day is a different day; it’s a challenge, no two days are the same. And we do the best to take care of everybody.
Over the last 40 years, you have seen many guests come and go. How did the guests change in such a long period?
Definitely, in my time here at the hotel people have changed. It’s become more casual. But in the 70s, when I started in ’72, people came in suits; the ladies in the hats. We had some old school charm. That’s what people like about Mark Hopkins, the aura of being an elegant, old school property. Nowadays most people are wearing Levi’s and tennis shoes. Not that there is something wrong with that, but yeah it has changed, there is a big difference, but we love to make everyone happy no matter what fashion style. But people call sometimes and ask if there is a dress code for Top of the Mark. We say “come as you like.” Maybe no shorts.
Over the last 40 years, how did San Francisco change?
I grew up in the city, and it has definitely changed. I would say, in the last ten years it has grown exponentially. It just seems to be a big little city now. Since I got married, I have lived over in the East Bay in Alameda. So I commute every day, definitely, the traffic has gotten worse. It grew up a lot; it’s busy, people are in a hurry.
We won’t tell further…Can you betray some secrets? What was the funniest request a guest had?
Something funny, funny… That made me think a lot. There was always something funny. But there was one particular experience, and I go back to this one as it was unique and funny to me and nobody ever knew what happened.
We used to have a gentleman stay with us; he was from the UK. You know, very polished, distinguished gentleman, very liked by the staff. I have been working one weekend, and he had just flown in from London. And the airline lost his bag, so he was just wearing his suit. And you know, he traveled the whole day, he had a meeting the next morning. And needed his garment pressed first thing in the morning.The guy, Leo, from the clothing service was coming later that day. I was on duty that morning, and I have always worked with my colleagues [ from the garment service], I have seen what they do, I figure out I can do that, too. I can handle this, put a suit on the rack and steam blow out the wrinkles. Little did I know that steam hadn’t been turned on yet. So as I proceeded to get everything ready, hang the clothes on the rack and turned the button on, got myself a coffee and newspapers, waiting for the steam to come up. All sudden I heard a trickling of water couldn’t figure out what it was. Because the steam wasn’t on the whole suit got drenched with water. I didn’t catch it on time. Panic struck in, what do I do on a Saturday morning. I needed to get this done right away. I jumped into my car, took to suit to the laundromat, throw it into the dryer, luckily it didn’t shrink. And then took it to the cleaners down the street, they just opened up at 8 o’clock. Gave them extra money, please press this for me right away. And had the suit back by 8.30. Guest put the suit on and never knew what happened. That was one of those moments… ( wishes with his hand over his forehead). I was ready to go home.
Personally, I think I can handle every challenge, but sometimes if you don’t know the idiosyncrasy of someone else’s job, you miss a step, which I did. But good thinking, not panicking, is something we like to think our concierge team does all the time. Stay focused on the task at hand and get it done.
The best way to enjoy Mark Hopkins?
Since it’s in a prime location, I mean Nob Hill, I would say come with a cable car up the hill. Come to the Top of the Mark, enjoy a cocktail upstairs, during the sunset hours, overlooking the Bay. It’s spectacular; it’s the best view in town. You can see the Golden Gate and Downtown. But you know you can come anytime, and we will spoil you.
Many people leave their hearts in San Francisco… How would you spend 12 hours with your out of town guests?
Hopefully not in traffic. Every time I have guests, I like to bring them to the city. We start with some dim sum, my wife and I love dim sum. We either go to Yank Sang of City View. Maybe then some cappuccino in North Beach at Caffe Trieste. I love cappuccino, especially at the old school places. Then visit the cable car museum, it’s only three blocks away. It maybe a bit touristy, but you have to see the Fisherman’s Wharf. I also like going to Alcaraz; it’s definitely the best view of San Francisco. Before dinner, I like to bring them to Land End for a short hike. And then some nice dinner with Italian food. I have lots of favorites. I like small places. One is Nob Hill Cafe. It’s a great local spot, our go-to restaurant. I love Italian food even I’m Mexican heritage. Also, Allegro Romano is great. And I would always try to take the guest to Tadich Grill; it’s just perfect. I like small, unpretentious places with good food.
Your three favorite SF restaurants?
I have so many; it’s hard to nail it to three.
But one place I always go to is Acquerello in Nob Hill. It has this yesteryear feel, but some amazing food.
I like Harris’s for steak over in Russian Hill.
And again, my little Nob Hill Cafe. It’s always good for lunch and dinner.
Best kept San Francisco secret?
Oh boy, nothing is so secret here anymore. Maybe the wave organ in the Marina. Not many people know about it. It’s fun to walk and hang out there. Or the Spire structure in Presidio. It’s great to hike around there; there are so many small trails in the Presidio. San Francisco is a great city. I love driving into the city over the Bay Bridge, the city always has a different look and feel. Sometimes it’s sunny, sometimes foggy, but always beautiful. It never gets old.
What do you love most about California?
Since I grew up in Northern California, the ability to go places within two or three hours and be somewhere else. We can go to Monterey, we can go to the Wine Country, to the mountains. All in the same time frame. I just like the diversity. Especially in food, you have every ethnicity.Thank you, Dan!