Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Citizen Hotel: Politically Correct

The Citizen Hotel
The capital of California, Sacramento is a city dominated by state politics and politicos.  From the hallowed halls of the California State Capitol Building to the hushed dealmaking at the Sutter Club, the city reeks of political bargains, back-room compromises, and the Governator’s cigars.  All that powerful machismo makes Sacramento’s newest boutique hotel, The Citizen, a perfect tongue-in-cheek match.  Located within walking distance of the Capitol Building and most of the downtown hot spots, The Citizen and the hotel’s restaurant, Grange, have the town abuzz.

Opened in 2009, the Citizen Hotel boasts 198 guest rooms each appointed with clever politically-themed touches.  Monogrammed bags boasting “Hot Air” hold the hair dryers, and one of the lamp shades in my room bore a copy of the California State Constitution.  The hallways and public spaces sport large photographs of protests and political leaders from California’s colorful past; political cartoons hang in the bed and bathrooms.  And a hang tag reading “Closed Door Session” replaces the traditional “Do Not Disturb.” 

The nouveaux-Federalist rooms are draped in men’s suiting from the wool, herringbone headboards to the silk-striped lampshades.  And while the hotel is new, the building is nearly a century old.  Smartly, the rooms and common areas maintain much of the 1926 glamour of the Cal Western Life building -- soaring ceilings, elegant moldings, and impossibly tall windows.  Combined with the dark furnishings and masculine fabrics, the effect is much like the interior of a humidor. 

The Gypsy’s Essentials
  • The Shower: fabulous!  Great water pressure, a luxurious rain-style head, fluffy towels, and room for two in the standard shower.  And the bath products, scented with lemongrass and bamboo, are incredible -- even if you do come away smelling ever-so-slightly like Thai food. 
  • The Bed: good.  The pillows are really squishy of which I am not a fan.  But the linens are lovely, and the mattress was fabulously comfortable. 
  • The Green Report: like many hotels, the Citizen gives you the option of recycling your linens rather than having them washed.  And the staff says they recycle what’s put in the trash bins, but I didn’t see any evidence.  The bath products are all eco-friendly and are packaged in biodegradable bottles made from cornstarch.  Perhaps the greenest spot in the hotel is Grange, the hotel’s restaurant.  The food is locally-sourced and seasonal with an emphasis on goods from the Central Valley and an all-California wine list. 
  • Internet Access: The Citizen prides itself on being accessible and technologically friendly for those working at the hotel -- with “screaming fast, wired and wireless 10Mbps HSIA Internet” -- but the technology doesn’t come cheap.  There is an iMac in each room, but internet service (wired and wireless) is a pricey $7.95 per computer per day. 
  • Children Welcome: yes, but it is not a particularly child-friendly hotel.  There is a children’s menu, but from the decor to the clientele, the Citizen means business.
  • Breakfast: not included. 
  • Price: expensive (rack rate: $209-599 per night; but cheaper rates can be had online). 
  • Notes: valet parking is also expensive ($25 per day which is high for Sacramento), but it is the best parking option in the area. 
  • A Huge Bonus: the Citizen Hotel has the best dog policy in Sacramento:  any dog is welcome at no cost! In fact, I would venture to say this is the ONLY hotel in the city that is this generous. 
For all the elegant touches of The Citizen, I expected exceptional service.  However, this is where the hotel falls short.  From the front desk to the bell hops to the valets, the staff of The Citizen lacked a sense of urgency and attentiveness customary to a four-star hotel.  The in-room dining guide (cutely titled “In the Know”) contained an out-of-date room service menu.  Rather than rushing up another copy, the woman I ordered from quickly read off the updated menu butchering basic foodie words like “mascarpone” and “trifle” -- clearly unfamiliar with the restaurant’s offerings.  Then the tray from my meal sat outside our room door for more than 24 hours before finally disappearing -- just one example of a slow housekeeping service. 
Evening view from my room toward the Cathedral
Our meal at Grange, however, was exceptional.  We enjoyed a Sunday brunch that started with pulpy, freshly squeezed orange juice -- the kind you’d expect in California.  My companion ordered a steak salad.  The steak was a perfect medium-rare, and it was served over spicy arugula, goat cheese, and a light vinaigrette.  For me: the Monte Cristo which redefined Monte Cristo.  Instead of a fried sandwich, the Grange serves gorgeous, lean ham with bacon (because one form of pork just isn’t enough) and sauteed onions.  But the genius in Grange’s Monte Cristo: the sandwich is served on their cream-soaked French toast made with Brioche.  And what the hotel lacked in service, the restaurant supplied.  The wait staff was attentive, knowledgeable, and professional. 
The lampshade: a copy of the California Constitution

In all the Citizen is a charming hotel.  Despite its power center, Sacramento often feels like a small town lacking sophistication.  But in the country’s most populated state with a powerful legislature and a gigantic budget mess, the Citizen Hotel capitalizes on its location and plays to its strengths.  Once they get the service right, this will be a hotel deserving of its four-star price tag to be sure.

The Citizen Hotel
926 J Street
Sacramento, California 95814
P: 916.447.2700 
F: 916.447.2701 
Reservations: 916.492.4460

Note: The Citizen Hotel sponsored my stay. Read more about my review policies.

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