San Franciscos Square DealThe Handlery Hotel

by : Robert Lagrone

Think of San Francisco ’s hilly streets and you’ll think of cable cars. There’s no more picturesque way to travel in this city, and if your hotel happens to be right by one of the three cable car lines, that’s a big plus. The Handlery Union Square Hotel (351 Geary Street) is a classy European-styled property in the heart of downtown San Francisco. It’s surprisingly affordable, given its elegance and location. Another plus is the hotel’s general manager, who seems a bit of a landmark himself.

Jon Handlery greeted me wearing a dark suit instead of a frilly tutu — but only because this wasn’t Halloween. Last October Jon dared to dress as a ballerina for the occasion, according to the delightful lady who checked me in and ordered champagne for my room. That says a lot about the Handlery’s — in a good way, of course. In a world of huge hotel chains, the family has operated independently for 75 years, with hotels here and in San Diego. Jon has served on San Francisco’s Convention and Visitors Bureau since 1997 and was elected its chairman in 2004. He is often visible around the hotel and is clearly popular with the staff. I wonder what the executives of the big chain hotels looked like at Halloween.

Union Square has been public parkland since the mid 1800’s and got its name in 1861 in honor of the young state’s decision not to secede from the Union. Occupying a city block, the square has long been surrounded by upscale shopping and restaurants. Many theaters and museums are nearby. The passing cable car will take you to Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Square , another important landmark if you like really good chocolate and ice cream. The same car will bring you and your stomach ache back to within a block of the hotel.

I hope you saved room for dinner. The Handlery has northern California’s only location of the Daily Grill serving delicious, hearty American fare that will fill you up without emptying your bank account. Steaks, chops, pastas, and fish are offered, along with a day-of-the-week special; tonight’s was a roast turkey dinner with sourdough stuffing. My date’s baked salmon was beautifully done. I might have ordered the other salmon dish, with a barbecue citrus glaze, but when I see “meatloaf" on a menu, I can barely focus on anything else, including my date.

Beware of the meatloaf! Perfectly seasoned and served with mashed potatoes and gravy, it’s a huge meal. You won’t be able to eat it all, but you’ll try to until your companion regains your attention by waving the dessert menu. I’m not a big fan of key lime pie, but the Grill served the very best I’ve tasted: creamy, firm, and not too tangy. The Daily Grill always has a homemade sorbet available, and tonight’s was spiced zinfandel. Marvelous! The flavor was better than any grape Popsicle from my childhood, and I was a huge fan of grape Popsicles.