Room Service:

Hotel Monaco, San Francisco


How many hotel rooms come with a complimentary goldfish (with the promise that you'll be reunited with the selfsame fish on your next visit)? Or free tarot-card readings, neck and shoulder massages, and wine and cheese every afternoon at five? It might not be everybody's cup of organic, naturally decaffeinated tea, but the Hotel Monaco takes quirky to a new level.

How many hotel rooms come with a complimentary goldfish (with the promise that you'll be reunited with the selfsame fish on your next visit)? Or free tarot-card readings, neck and shoulder massages, and wine and cheese every afternoon at five? It might not be everybody's cup of organic, naturally decaffeinated tea, but the Hotel Monaco takes quirky to a new level.

This is, after all, San Francisco. Although the influx of designer hotels (the "W" chain and the revamped-by-Ian-Schrager Clift, for example) has threatened to sweep away some of the city's individuality in the hotel stakes, the flower-power legacy (thankfully) takes a bit of shaking off.

The Hotel Monaco is in an ornate Beaux-Arts building dating back to 1910, in the seedy-but-now-hip Tenderloin district. The interior, from the lobby's hand-painted ceiling domes telling the story of flight, to the registration desk modelled on a classic steamer trunk, can best be described as playfully exuberant – Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen meets Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge, perhaps. In the Grand Café, the huge columns, giant fronds, leather-and-brass booths, and Toulouse-Lautrec paintings reproduced as wall murals add to the belle époque feel.

Location, location, location

The Hotel Monaco is at 501 Geary Street, San Francisco CA94102 (001 415 292 0100; www.monaco-sf.com), two blocks from Union Square in downtown San Francisco.

Time from international airport: the obvious route from the airport, 14 miles south of the city centre, is by the Bart train. Unfortunately, the station is only "99 per cent" complete, and a complicated bus/train journey is still necessary. So, why not splash out $35 (£22) on the half-hour cab ride instead?

Are you lying comfortably?

There are 201 rooms, including 34 suites, 23 of which have two-person whirlpool tubs. Our room (No 524) was like a vision from the Cirque du Soleil. The living-room had a rose velvet sofa, gold carpet and huge drapes with a swathe of striped fabric slung across the top. A huge, circular, concave gold mirror reflected distorted, funhouse-style images. The canopy bed, which was like a huge trampoline, had a headboard upholstered in red-and-cream stripes, and a contrastingly patterned bedspread. Wide grey-and-white striped wallpaper, red curtains with gold fleurs-de-lis, and Surrealist pictures on the walls completed the whimsical decor.

Freebies: delicious Aveda products, mini rosemary-and-mint shampoo and conditioner, body lotion, energising body cleanser, plus red wine and chocolates.

Keeping in touch: two TVs with internet access, two two-line telephones, and a fax machine.

The bottom line

Doubles start at $260 (£166).

I'm not paying that: check the hotel website for special offers as low as $170 (£115). Or continue the flower-power theme at a typically offbeat Haight-Ashbury offering: the Red Victorian, 1665 Haight Street, between Clayton and Cole (001 415 864 1978; www.redvic.com) has a handful of wildly decorated rooms from $98 (£63).

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