Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Seven months and twenty-six days: securing food and lodging

My wife brought work home tonight. She is taking a rare break from Bar Mitzvah planning. At first glance, everything looks the same. She is sitting at the kitchen table, intently staring into her laptop. If not for the stack of scientific-looking papers sitting neatly next to her on the table, you might think she's aimed her laser-like focus on flower arrangements or finding the most inexpensive bulk orders of chopsticks available.

If you saw her face, though, you would see it bereft of the enthusiasm and joy it has when she is in Bar Mitvah mode. And then you would know the difference between Bar Mitzvah planning and work.

As for me, I found myself with a bit of free time at work this afternoon, so I walked down to the Cosmopolitan Cafe to scope it out as a potential Friday night post-services dinner venue.

I know, I know, we already decided on Sinbad's. Seduced by its kitschy neon sign, waterfront location and whiff of San Francisco past, we almost skipped the all-important step of checking to see what the rest of the world thought of it.

The reviews were uniformly bad. They painted a picture of Sinbad's as dusty, out-of-date, perhaps smelling like disinfectant, worth the trip only to bathe in ironic nostalgia, which, when you're 25 is often enough to carry the day, but when you're 44 -- or 13 -- barely registers on the taste-o-meter.

When I read that Sinbad's had been the scene of a Christmas day murder this year, we shut the book on Sinbad's and started from scratch.

The problem is one of planning and semantics. On Friday, we must get 24 people from the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero to Temple Emanu-El, to dinner and then back to the Hyatt Regency. To do this, we must rent a 24-passenger bus (and driver). The bus rents by the hour.

As discussed in these virtual pages earlier, at first we thought we'd have dinner out by the temple. And then we thought we could save some money by choosing a restaurant near the Hyatt. The bus could drop us at the restaurant and then disappear into the night, saving us about two hours of paying for a bus.

The problem is that the downtown restaurants are so expensive that they cancel out any advantage we might have gained by jettisoning the bus two hours early. Many of them feature menus designed to be appreciated by palates far more sophisticated than ours.

So here we are back at square one, restaurant-wise.

Maybe the problem is that we chose to house our guests at the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero, famous as the setting of Mel Brooks' "High Anxiety" and the U2 video where Bono tags the sculpture out behind the hotel because he's so righteous that laws of private property no longer apply to him.

We could have gone with some place close to temple, or a place close to the Golden Gate Yacht Club, where we're having the party. We could have found some place more hip, less expensive, some place with parking. We did none of these things.

The Hyatt Regency is about 50 paces from the Embarcadero BART stop. Our out-of-town guests -- some of whom have very little experience in an urban setting and are freaking out enough to call and ask for a detailed primer on San Francisco's public transit systems eight months before arriving -- can get off their planes, pick up BART at the airport, then get out at the Embarcadero stop and be staring at their hotel.

More importantly, the Hyatt Regency has existed in the imaginations of my family since 1976, when my mother, sisters and I came to San Francisco and met our cousins there. I was 11.

For weeks afterward, the backside of every piece of homework or classwork, every quiz or test I took was covered with crudely drawn images of the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero. Sketches of the glass elevators replaced war scenes as my go-to for killing time after finishing an assignment. Sometimes I drew floorplans, small arrows neatly pointing out the multi-story lobby, the elevators and the indoor fountains.

The time for me to outgrow my fascination with the Hyatt Regency quickly came and went. The lobby's space-age open spaces, it's Las Vegas-tinted glass elevators, its strangely muffled sound quality, all should have become things I made fun of, appreciated only in a winking Sinbad's sort of way.

No dice.

When we moved to San Francisco in 2000, I waited about three weeks before taking my then-three year-old Jawa to the Hyatt Regency. Over the past ten years, we've taken almost every one of his friends there, his cousins, my friends when they come to town, even my co-workers for a drink once, who didn't know how disappointed I was when they exclaimed, "I love it! It's so tacky!" until right now.

So when the time came to choose a hotel for our big event, we didn't have to look far before returning to the luxury hotel of our fantasies, the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero. Come August 20, we will check into a room (the first time I will have ever seen an actual guest room) there, along with the out-of-town segment of the Bar Mitzvah party, and we will ride those glass elevators until the novelty wears off, as if that'll ever happen.

The Cosmopolitan Cafe is two blocks from the Hyatt Regency. You can see it from the front door of the restaurant. It's kind of urban and hip. A review posted in the entryway says something about it being "a taste of New York." I have no idea if it will fit into our budget, which is mostly fantasy anyway, since a realistic "budget" for this event would be capped at about $10.

San Francisco's list of tourist attractions is as long as it is familiar. Everyone knows about the Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street, the Cable Cars; come August, our tourists will learn about another tourist attraction, one not as well-known as the others but no less important, in our house at least. To at least one local, the glass elevators at the Hyatt Regency will always remind him of growing up in San Francisco.


Jean said...

I too have fond memories of staying at the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero when I was about 11 (probably before you were born). My mother was in SF for a business trip and I got to tag along and stay there for one night. Saw my first in-room movie... And no, the thrill of the glass elevators will never wear off. The place is magic.

Butter Goats said...

Again I lament the loss of the Gold Spike.

Butter Goats said...

P.S. If the BART newbies arrive when we do, we can escort them safely to the hotel. :)