Rod Emmerson endures a night in a bygone era.
Close to Union Square and even closer to an array of hotels that you wished you had booked into.
Check-in experience: I checked in on September 30: the property has since changed its name to the Tilden Hotel.
Once you have reached the foyer (after negotiating a glass door that hangs perilously ajar) you are transported to the world of Mark Twain fiction. Scaffolding draped in decorative painters' cloth and taped off areas quickly sweep you into the mood of the building. The unique industrial pattern of broken concrete flooring and the portable picnic table reception desk provide that feng shui moment where everything within eyeshot links to just one word — renovation. Not at all matching the images used on numerous hotel booking sites.
Greeted by a friendly chap in street attire, I say very politely: "You must be f***ing joking — I travel halfway round the world and this is San Francisco for $400 a night? (I booked through Wotif.com) I could be wrong, but the place is a pigsty, mate."
He politely agrees. After further robust observations, I offer to cancel my reservation, which they accept, but given the time (it was almost 6pm on a Friday night) the chances of finding another hotel are near-on impossible. I ask for the key to my room, where I will make a decision.
The room: Getting to the room requires negotiating the lift. The antique brass plate that houses the buttons for retrieving the lift is ornately layered in red gaffer tape to prevent exposed cables from being touched by stray hands. They have excelled themselves in preventing litigation for injury or death. However, even Aaron Smith would have trouble negotiating the toilet-sized lift.
On the eighth floor, the room is large, and with a heavy squint of the eye, a dose of imagination and two minutes in Photoshop, you can just see a website image play before you. Albeit a corner of it. The blurb said I would be transported to a bygone era. Not that of the misty savannahs of Mark Twain — more like pre-school daycare.
For one who has spent most of their working life drawing in black and white, I know all too well how difficult it is to project that seamlessly to a finished product. I say this, only because the room is white, with thick black highlights that droop and flick their way against a stark white background like crayon on a wall. This continues to the bathroom, with fresh white tiles set in black grouting over-emphasising the crooked tile work.
A minute in the room and I have decided that, for this money, I'm leaving for better digs. I return to reception, where a cheesy receptionist tells me my reservation came through a booking agency, and there will be a one-night cancellation fee.
I head back up to my room to contact Wotif.com, but my patience has gone down to the basement. I can feel a cartoon coming on. Wotif are sympathetic but the policy stands, despite the situation. To avoid escalating costs further with the possible use of a defibrillator on myself, I reluctantly decide to stay the one night.
I lie there late that night, watching local TV news but find myself listening intently to conversation in the neighbouring room. Thin walls. Thankfully, they don't shag their way through the evening. Eventually I wish they had, because they snore their way to the wee hours. When that ceases, the airlocks in the plumbing kick in. Sleep for me is a mere figment of the website's imagination. A quick step outside for some fresh air, and I'm negotiating the homeless escaping the chill of the night. I feel like huddling up with them.
Beverages: There is no room service, and the coffee machine cable doesn't quite reach the power point, until I lift it into position.
Would Mark Twain recommend it? If you salivate for the ambience of construction sites and budget backpackers, but insist on paying more than $400 a night for it, be my guest.
Now named the Tilden Hotel, this property is at 345 Taylor Street, Tenderloin, San Francisco. Phone: +1 415 673 2332.