Just before the holidays, San Francisco welcomed a vibey new hotel tricked out with something to delight locals and visitors alike: A lush outdoor terrace perched three stories above the Financial District.
The Jay Hotel takes the lion’s share of its inspiration from Ruth Asawa, the internationally renowned sculptor known for wire-woven works both bulbous and ethereal, and the Brutalism with which the building was first designed—an artistic movement that highlighted functional structural elements over gaudy decoration.
Together they create an exquisite architectural fever dream the design team at AvroKO, who overhauled the pre-existing Le Meridien Hotel into Autograph Collection's The Jay, has dubbed “warm brutalism,” a look that’s anchored by slatted oak fringes and screens, evocative ceiling cut-outs, and multi-patterned floors.
The dramatic Brutalist entrance at The Jay.(Courtesy of The Jay)
There are elevators from The Jay’s ground floor entrance to its lobby, of course, but the best way to arrive at the hotel and its restaurant-bar The Third Floor (which is, no surprise, is on the hotel’s third floor) is via a theatrical spiral staircase that winds spring-like around a bronze column cast by artist Arnaldo Pomodoro. It’s a deliberate nod to John Portman, the neofuturistic architect who created the 24-story building in 1988, to whose home a similar staircase brought the drama.
Like Jack’s magical beanstalk, they are a passageway to a rarified ecosystem, one filled with sculptural shapes, honeyed light, and distinctive texture. At its core is the Third Floor’s bar and lounge, which is parceled out into intimate seating areas, each with a slightly different flavor combination of deep-seated arm chairs, sleek mid-century wood-backed loungers, and pillow-stacked nooks.
Behind a muscular wooden screen, against a wall of windows, is the dining room. Like the lounge, it too is alive with patterns that complement as well as they clash, and seating evocative of Japanese minimalist style. With the Omakase Restaurant Group behind the restaurant—the same operation behind Michelin-approved Omakase, Niku Steakhouse, and Okane—the lean towards the land of the rising sun is an appropriate one.
Let’s just say, the Cal-Japanese menu by executive chef Michael Magallenes isn’t your average hotel fare. The Third Floor turns seared duck into housemade Hong Kong–style wontons and smokey farro into hearty porridge topped with crispy, chile-glazed maitakes; they form croquettes out of truffled ham and cheese and build a grand tower of seafood with oysters, poached shrimp, squid, and lobster. They’ve got an entire category of starters just called “sticks,” handheld proteins and veg like chicken thigh with shiso, coconut pork belly, and king trumpet mushrooms grilled simply on a yakitori—each skewer a tasty two-bite snack ideal for setting the tone of a meal or noshing alongside cocktails.
The lush outdoor terrace at The Jay.(Courtesy of The Jay)
For those cocktails, there are few places downtown that will better capture the warm sunlight of a fog-free day downtown than on The Third Floor’s terrace. The phrase “urban oasis” may be a cliche but, at The Jay, it’s pretty much accurate. The patio is planted in agave and palm, purple salvia and fern. There’s a retractable pergola, a full bar, multiple seating areas with cushions in stripes and checks, and fire pits for chilly nights. It’s a backyard-cozy compliment to the design-forward interior.
Upstairs, the 360 guest rooms are an extension of the aesthetic laid out on the third floor: sophisticated and polished with a tone-on-tone palette and oak screen partitions between sleeping and lounging areas in the larger rooms. At 413 square feet, even the classic rooms (rates start around $223/night) are massive by SF hotel standards. There are elegant stone and walnut consoles with a work desk, custom geometrical carpets and lighting, and coffee table books from Bay Area–connected artists and thinkers like Asawa and Rebecca Solnit. Floor-to-ceiling windows draw the light and locally commissioned artwork and photography hangs from the walls.
In the morning, after an indulgent night’s sleep in luxury linens, the Coffee Bar in the hotel lobby steams espressos, lattes and cappuccinos from Equator Coffee, and serves housemade pastries and juices. But there’s no big hurry to get out of bed. They’ll bring your cup of joe, as well as breakfast dishes from The Third Floor like brioche French toast with persimmon compote and whipped mascarpone, and the “omakase” which comes Japanese-style with half a dozen bamboo-dishes filled with miso-grilled black cod, onsen egg, pickled veggies, miso soup, and steamed rice.
A guestroom at The Jay.(Courtesy of The Jay)
Stick around—or stop by—midday for traditional afternoon tea with tasty twists like almond crackers with Dungeness crab and persimmon, seasoned egg and truffle on ancient grain bread, and bite-sized matcha cheesecake.
With easy access to Jackson Square and the Embarcadero, The Jay is as ideally situated for out-of-towners as it is for SF’s own. For the latter, it’s poised to become a favorite for happy hour and laidback nights in the arms of the city we love.
// The Third Floor is open daily from 7am to 10:30am, 11:30am to 2:30pm, and 4:30pm to 10pm (until 11pm on Friday and Saturday); 433 Clay St. (Jackson Square), jayhotelsf.com.