Overview: The seven-story, turn-of-the-century building known today as Villa Florence has quite a history. It was conceived and constructed in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake, part of San Francisco’s swift reconstruction campaign. It debuted as apartments but shortly thereafter became the Hotel Manx, whose basement would become a speakeasy during Prohibition. In the 1930s, when the Golden Gate Bridge was being assembled, many from the construction crew lived here. The property has been reborn many times, eventually becoming the Italian-themed Villa Florence in 1986. In March, the hotel completed a revamp of its 189 guest rooms, the first phase of a $15 million overhaul. The final phase, the lobby, will be transformed by early next year.
Location: The heart of Union Square shopping, one block from the Powell Street BART station, next door to Uniqlo and across the street from H&M.
Room: Deluxe king, fifth floor. The focal point of the new contemporary decor is the floor-to-ceiling headboard painted with fuchsia peonies. The bedding is brand new and very comfortable. Plenty of bedside electrical and USB outlets make it easy to stay plugged in. The television is huge, and the bathroom is tiny, stocked with good-quality towels but no bathrobes or slippers.
Food/drink: The hotel operates two dining venues, Kuleto’s and Bar Norcini, both Italian. The former has been around for more than 25 years and still ranks among the city’s top Italian dining rooms. Bar Norcini is a casual espresso bar by day, a cocktail bar at night.
Wi-Fi: Basic Wi-Fi is free and good enough for most email and Web surfing. Faster connections are available for a fee.
Public spaces: There’s not much to explore within the hotel since it was originally built as apartments, not a grand gathering place. The hallways are decorated with modern portraits from Los Angeles-based artist Liz Heras, making the corridors fun to explore, but beware: It’s easy to get lost. The property was built as two separate buildings, one within the other, the result of a bull-headed dispute between the two original owners. The tangled structures were eventually joined together, creating the maze-like hallways.
Service: The front desk crew is extremely gracious, helpful and quick-witted. Turn-down service is available upon request, not automatic. The valet staff could probably use an extra hand.
Cost: $270, with valet parking included. You read that correctly: Parking is often included in room rates at Villa Florence, a highly unusual move in San Francisco. It depends on the dates; some do incur parking fees of $56 per day. Best available rates can drop as low as $180, but also fluctuate wildly based on citywide occupancy. The lowest rate in August ranges from $290 to $518 for a deluxe queen.
Bottom line: The newly revamped rooms are genuinely comfortable, and the price is a bargain, especially when parking is included, if you have a need for that. The biggest downside is the tiny bathrooms, but they are far from being the city’s smallest.