As with many historic buildings in San Francisco, Hotel Zeppelin had a lot of personality changes before settling into this role. The basement used to be a speakeasy in the 1920s, the local press club was in the second structure next door, and even as a hotel it was Hotel Prescott until 2015 when it became a Viceroy property.
Perhaps it’s more Bowie than Zeppelin in this respect, but in spirit it is planted firmly in the end of the 1960s, about the time when the first album from Plant, Page, Bonham, and Jones was recorded and released. Psychedelic posters and artwork are a prominent part of the decor, with the Haight-Ashbury/Bill Graham rock show look incorporated into the bathroom wallpaper. The overhead light over your bed may not get a second look from you but it should: if you look on the ceiling above it you’ll see a hand making a peace sign. Each room even has a turntable for spinning vinyl you can borrow from the hotel’s collection.
This is all thankfully more playful than reverent, the place never getting too bogged down in the nostalgia to look dated or overly retro. There’s a clear modern sensibility at work, from the curving wall of craft distillery gin bottles in the bar to the Silicon Valley-worthy TVs that allow you to stream from your smart phone or tablet.
The Hotel Zeppelin sign on the front of the historic facade is minimal and when you step into the lobby there is a small reception desk with colored lights overhead and smartly dressed clerks to check you in. The funky uniform for bellhops includes baggy pants and camouflage high-tops. A couple inviting sitting areas have eclectic colorful furniture.
To the left is a barely staffed coffee shop by day, bar by night that is filled with locals as much as guests, with open Wi-Fi and a quickly disappearing array of pastries and doughnuts from a local shop in the mornings. When I stayed in April 2016 the main restaurant was still in the building stage. Room service was being brought in from another Union Square neighborhood spot.
The revamp of the property focused on fun first, food second: the former speakeasy basement is now a terrific play room for adults with wall-mounted mini basketball hoops, Skee-ball, tabletop shuffleboard, and billiards. A TV lounge section has a giant peace sign formed from license plates and the mural behind the hoops is from a well-known local street artist. A room at the far end can be closed off for private functions or the whole space can be rented out with a DJ and a bartender.
Rooms are situated in the two adjoining buildings, with most being the size you would expect in the USA’s second-most-expensive real estate market. They’re efficiently designed enough to have room for your luggage though and the butcher block desks work well while standing or using the unique leather chair that gives the sensation of being on a motorcycle. There’s a Neopresso coffee maker, a refrigerator, and good climate control, plus included WiFi and good toiletries in refilled containers.
Only a few rooms have tubs, so upgrade to a suite if that’s a requirement and get some more space. The six types of suite include a family option and the “Mr. Smiley Suite.” The Gypsy Suite has a fireplace but the real rock star option is the Zeppelin Suite (of course) with 1,800 square feet for the groupies, an outdoor deck, and a media room.
There’s a small gym on site with the basics, or you can ask for a pass to get into a local full-blown health club. Or this being at the bottom of Nob Hill, you could just walk to Chinatown and back and feel a thigh burn greater than an hour on a Stairmaster.
The eating and drinking options here will improve once the new restaurant is complete and open, but for now the rooms and the fun room are the stars, plus the great central location near Union Square.