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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A Fond Farewell to The Palace Hotel's Buffet Brunch Service

Posted By on Tue, Sep 1, 2015 at 2:30 PM

click to enlarge ALI WUNDERMAN
  • Ali Wunderman

This weekend I bid goodbye to a San Francisco legacy. On Sunday I walked through the Palace Hotel’s glorious entrance, a handcrafted splendor made of gilded doors and marble floors. I made my way into the sunlit Garden Court, admiring the implausibly high glass ceilings that I recognized from the afternoon teas of my childhood, and more recently from The Game, a classic San Francisco movie that should be required watching material for any resident, new or old.

I was there to feast upon their famous Sunday Brunch, a decadent buffet that made anyone who ate it feel like San Francisco royalty, truly living up to the hotel’s name. I remember how they lined the room in long tables covered in white linen, and topped that linen with stations for crêpes, pâté, fruit, cheese, crab, dim sum, pancakes, omelets, dessert, and truly anything else your heart and stomach might desire (including bottomless Champagne).

This meal cost a pretty penny, which is why going there was always a special occasion. This was especially true for the women of the Bay Area, who looked to the Palace Hotel brunch and tea services as a unique place to facilitate mother-daughter (and even grandmother) bonding. My own family can attest to this: as a child my mother went with her own mother and grandmother in the 1960s and '70s, eventually passing the tradition on to my sister and me — which we hoped to carry on with our families.

So I was understandably devastated upon visiting this weekend to learn that the Palace Hotel has discontinued their buffet brunch service, replacing it with a more traditional a la carte offering.

It’s not that a la carte is bad; it’s just not inherently special. Their new menu looks good, albeit a bit expensive, but certainly can’t replace the uniqueness of their buffet brunch experience.

I spoke with staff at the hotel and learned that they quietly did away with the buffet service about three months ago, because, “we have served so many decades of the buffet that we changed to do something new for the guests.”

New is the right way to describe it. The Palace Hotel originally opened in 1875, and was rebuilt after being gutted by the 1906 fire, meaning this place, and all that it offered, was truly Old School San Francisco.

But the new San Francisco isn’t particularly interested in the old San Francisco. There are some hangers-on, like yours truly, but we are a dying breed. Gentrification and tech culture are all too often blamed for this, but truthfully a $100 per person brunch is perfectly in line with both of those things, so they can’t take the hit for this.

Perhaps it’s the nuisance of absentee ownership changing the face of San Francisco, that fickle beast snatching up houses in Sea Cliff without buyers ever stepping foot on the properties. But the Japanese Kyo-Ya Hotels & Resorts group has owned The Palace Hotel since 1973, and haven’t culled the buffet until now, so it can’t be their doing.

Perhaps it’s our fault. My fault. We fought when the Palace Hotel planned to auction off the Maxfield Parrish painting adorning the Pied Piper Bar in 2013, successfully restoring it to its rightful home of over 100 years. As for the buffet, Sundays came and Sundays passed, and where have I been? Not at the Palace Hotel.

And maybe there is no fault at all. If this city does one thing well, it’s change. All this is is San Francisco being San Francisco. At the very least I can be grateful the Palace Hotel has maintained their spectacular interior.

The loss of the Palace Hotel buffet brunch is upsetting to me, as I’m sure it is to many others who have enjoyed it over the years. This is a reminder to appreciate things as they are, when they are, because they won’t always be there (just like the 49ers). And if we do want to keep things, we have to remember to use them.

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Ali Wunderman

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