We were pleased to be joined by a colleague for a smart drink yesterday post 5PM. Keith and I do this from time to time, often enough, one would presume, to identify some favorite watering holes. Unfortunately, those venues we initially identify as appropriate for a hang out designation frequently change staff, and bar menu, so what might otherwise be a comfortable spot becomes, sooner rather than later, unfamiliar, often with its pleasant characteristics shed. That this happens is an odd phenomenon, as I always feel that one’s core business is repeat business, but as with so much these days, the received wisdom is that frequent change is essential. Exactly why that is, I don’t know- we still believe that relationships are a necessary component of any successful business, and would be furious at ourselves if, changing for the sake of change, we ran business off.
As a consequence, we tried out a new spot, the lobby bar of the local branch of a well-known international chain of luxury hotels. We had been in before, not all that long ago, and while the food and service were adequate, albeit changed from our last visit, the décor was not. What had been in the last year a comfortable, cheery environment of overstuffed chairs and banquettes was changed to something that reminded me of the stock in trade of one of the furniture rental stores- angular seating furniture with black painted show frames, angular low tables with stone tops, and while the banquettes were still there, they were, as was all the seat furniture, upholstered in dour tones of black and gray.
Frankly, though, this mimics nearly all the lobby bars of all the local luxury hotels. Scotch that- the local branches of all the luxury hotel chains. Locally owned hostelries are not as abundant in San Francisco as they once were. And therein lies the tale, with chains of hotels going the way of every other mass market retailer of goods and services- every one copies everyone else and with such frequency that no one maintains any particular distinction for very long. We see this everywhere. As it happened, our cocktails out were preceded by a visit to the San Francisco Design Centre where we had remarked about the sameness of so much of the showroom material, any one of which, or all of whom, for that matter, could have supplied furnishings- with no variation in style or palette- to all the hotels. A funny story just occurred to me, about a gentleman in the antiques trade who said that when he looked across his shop he saw shiny surfaces and all of them brown. Mind you, all the same is no more interesting in period material than it is in contemporary, so our longstanding attempt in own gallery is to pleasantly interrupt that sea of brown with some painted finishes, gilding, and distinctive fabrics. However, when we looked across some of the showrooms we visited yesterday, it was not a sea of brown that we were greeted with, but one of a dull gray. Likewise the hotel bar- only relieved, but thank goodness it was, by the warm brown of my neat rye whiskey. Oh, yes- and Keith’s Manhattan.