A Midcentury Hospitality Gem in San Francisco

San Francisco - The Phoenix Hotel renovated by Liz Lambert - pool view

Located in downtown San Francico’s Tenderloin district is a groovy boutique hotel, The Phoenix. Over the past three decades, The Phoenix has served as a stopover for touring musicians.

Recently renovated and re-opened by Liz Lambert and her hospitality group, Bunkhouse, the hotel stays true to its midcentury roots while clean and minimal elements freshen up the individual rooms.

The hotel has a rock ‘n’ roll soul and has accommodated musicians from David Bowie to Kurt Cobain over the years. The poolside is made for throwing down a party and the parking lot has an allocated space for tour buses to park in.

We caught up with Liz Lambert to tell us more about the charming hotel with its fascinating history.

Could you tell us about the restoration “inspired by the travelling musician” ?

The Phoenix Hotel has always been a beloved rest stop for touring bands, because it has a parking lot that can hold a tour bus and the hotel is in the epicenter of some of the city’s most important live music venues.

So it became this sort of legendary place over the years, where the grittiness of the Tenderloin became the backdrop for the rock and roll scene traveling through town – there were a lot of crazy memories born there.

When Kurt Cobain died, he had a note in his pocket on Phoenix Hotel stationary. He had written joke wedding vows to Courtney on it. Pretty amazing.

The Phoenix Hotel renovated by Liz Lambert - room entrance
The Phoenix Hotel renovated by Liz Lambert - room
The Phoenix Hotel renovated by Liz Lambert - room
The Phoenix Hotel renovated by Liz Lambert - room  detail

What were some of the major changes the hotel underwent and why? Did you curate the interiors fully as well?

We edited the Phoenix Hotel and made it a bit more cohesive from a design standpoint, and we paid homage to its cultural heyday in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

We wanted to acknowledge its roots and elevate the legend that it is, but at the same time we want to be sure to manage guests’ expectations — it’s still a motel in the heart of the Tenderloin.

The most stand-out elements are the lobby inspired by the wood grain of a recording studio, the red and white striped pool cabanas, and the custom bright blue built-in headboards and desks.  

Who designed the eccentric pool outside and what was the inspiration behind the design?

After acquiring the property in 1987, Chip Conley commissioned the pool mural  from muralist Francis Forlenzo in 1990. He named it “My Fifteen Minutes/Crashing Waves,” and dedicated it to Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol. It was originally painted, but is now a mosaic art piece. The pool design was one of the elements we kept while renovating the property in 2018.

The Phoenix Hotel renovated by Liz Lambert - pool view
The Phoenix Hotel renovated by Liz Lambert - pool  night view


case study house book cover

The Phoenix Hotel renovated by Liz Lambert - garden night view
The Phoenix Hotel renovated by Liz Lambert - exterior
Photos: Jackie Lee Young and Nick Simonite

What’s the idea behind the various lights used throughout the site, from neon lights in the bedrooms to the colorful lights around the patio?

We were on a super tight budget for the redo of the rooms at the Phoenix, and we were really looking for something that would serve as art in the area above the headboard that worked in most of the rooms.

I’ve always loved tube lighting, and there was something that seemed really rock n roll to me about using a bare bulb with a pull chain above the bed. It was a no-brainer to add a red gel to knock down the glare and give the courtyard a beautiful pink glow when all of the rooms are lit up.

I wish we could add a buzzing noise to complete the effect, but that might interrupt sleep.