A stay at the Mark Hopkins would not be complete without a visit to its penthouse bar, the Top of The Mark. While at the San Francisco Writer’s conference at the hotel, two of my writer friends and I decided to take in the views while sipping our wine and talking shop. Two of my favorite pastimes!
In 1939, George Smith, owner of the Mark Hopkins converted the large 11 room penthouse suite on the hotel’s 19th floor into a cocktail lounge. Famed San Francisco journalist Herb Caen wrote that while it was being built, Smith said to his colleagues, “I don’t know what to call the top of the Mark.” They told him, “That’s it.” He asked, “What’s it?” They replied, “The Top of the Mark,” and that’s how the now famous bar got its name.
The Top of the Mark features gigantic glass panels that were designed to withstand the seacoast’s gales which can reach up to 125 miles an hour. The panels also offer a breathtaking 360 degree panoramic view. Visitors from all over the world come to enjoy the lounge whether or not they stay in the hotel. It is perfect for special events like birthdays, anniversaries, retirement parties or just to celebrate the end of the day — which shouldn’t be too difficult as the bar offers a menu of over 100 different martinis.
During World War II, San Francisco was a stop off point for soldiers going out to war in the Pacific. Servicemen would gather to share a farewell drink and take in the sunset before shipping out. A tradition of the “squadron bottle” was started. A serviceman would buy a bottle of spirits and leave it with the bartender so the next visiting soldiers from his unit could enjoy a free drink upon their return. The only rule was that whomever had the last sip must buy the next bottle.
When it came time for the soldiers to depart, their families would gather in the lounge’s northwest corner where they could watch their loved ones in their ships sail out to sea beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. This corner became known as “Weeper’s Corner.”
Today, hopefully, there is not much sorrow associated with the lounge, only relaxation and celebration. If you are ever in San Francisco, a visit to the Top of the Mark should definitely climb to the top of your to-do list! I guarantee you won’t regret it.
Last week I went to the San Francisco Writer’s Conference which was held at the elegant, historic Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco’s posh Nob Hill area. What a treat! Although I have visited the beautiful bay area many times, I’ve never had the pleasure of staying at the luxurious landmark site. I wanted to share some of it’s history with you.
One of four founders of the Central Pacific railroad, Mark Hopkins dreamed of building his wife Mary a grand home. When he saw the panoramic views atop the Nob Hill area, he’d found the ideal location. He built a 40 room gothic beauty which he named “Hotel de Hopkins.” The mansion was indeed grand, complete with spires and gables and one of the largest in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, he died before its completion in 1878.
Shortly after her husband’s death, Mary become enamored with Edward T. Searles, an interior designer from the East coast, thirty years her junior. The two married and moved into the mansion upon its completion. Their bliss was not to last and Mary died in 1891. She left the $70 million estate to Searles. Two years later, he donated “Hotel de Hopkins” to the San Francisco Art Association and they converted the palace-like mansion into a school and museum.
In 1906, the epic San Francisco earthquake demolished many of the beautiful historic buildings in the Nob Hill area. The Hopkins mansion survived only to be destroyed by fires caused by the quake. All that remained were the chimney stacks, the granite retaining wall and a 500,000 gallon cistern full of water. With the remaining solid foundation, the Art Association reconstructed a more modest building on the site.
In 1925, George D. Smith, a mining engineer and hotel investor purchased the Art Association building and then demolished it. He had grander plans for the panoramic hill top area. He built a large, luxurious hotel combining French and Spanish aesthetics and he graciously named it after the original site owner, Mark Hopkins.
In December of 1926, the Mark Hopkins Hotel held it’s grand opening much to the delight of San Franciscans who deemed it “architecturally perfect, flawless in its erection, and comprehensive in its accommodations – strikingly representative of the best there is in modern hostelry.”
Stay tuned for more history of the Mark Hopkins Hotel!