The Adventures of Skylar Grey

Chapter 28: Kickin’ at the Ritz

Kickie celebrated her 85th birthday at the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco in a newly renovated suite with fog-inspired hues of blue and grey. photo:

In 2009, I wrote a cover story for Northside San Francisco titled, “Where to shop, stay, play, and dine with your dog.” The premise was that the higher end the hotel, the more likely they were to pamper your pet. My trusty pit bull mix Jasmine Blue helped me with the research. Over a six-month period, we stayed in dozens of fantastic five-star hotels. The first time Jazzy saw an elevator at the aptly named Diva Hotel, she refused to get into it, so the bellman had to pick her up (no easy feat with 80 pounds of frightened, wiggling pittie). By our final stay, she was riding a glass elevator up 30 stories and running to the window of our room to check out her views.

While all of the stays were wonderful, only one earned a coveted full page — the penthouse suite at the San Francisco Ritz-Carlton. Titled, “From death row to penthouse pet of the year,” it featured a white-gloved, top-hatted valet holding the door open as Jazzy made her entrance. Greeted with a glass of Champagne for me (and a Champagne-shaped biscuit for Jazzy), we used our special key card to access the penthouse floor. The suite was spectacular, with a baby grand piano, dining room for twelve, European antique-style furniture, complimentary caviar service, and breathtaking city views. It remains one of my favorite memories in my much-too-short journey with Jazzy.


When my stepmother, Kickie, recovered from successful breast cancer surgery, and her 85th birthday was near, I wanted to take her to the Ritz. The eldest girl of 11 children, Kickie grew up in the hills of Kentucky where they lived off the land through the Great Depression. “We had everything but money,” she recalls, and that depression upbringing created a frugal woman. Though her life has been full of adventure (including a British husband who took her to stay in London with his family), Kickie continues to watch her pennies and rarely splurges.

A week before her birthday, I told Kickie the plan and booked a room on the Ritz Club Level. I could hear her on the phone with friends and family excitedly telling them about her impending trip. “I’ve never stayed in a really fancy hotel,” she would say. “I’ve always heard so much about the Ritz that I know it must be fabulous.”


After arriving in San Francisco, we stopped at Steve’s house to drop off Skylar for a slumber party with Blue, and Steve joined us for lunch at No. 9 Fishermen’s Grotto, where I’ve been eating since I was a toddler. Opened in 1935 as the first restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf, it’s run by four generations of the Geraldi family, who have been friends of my family for nearly as long. We shared our favorite crab Louie over avocado (I always say it’s the only crab Louie in town where you have to dig through the crab to find the lettuce) and their award-winning clam chowder. After Kickie had fun catching up with owner Mike Geraldi, it was time to check in at the Ritz.


When we pulled up, the valets were there to open Kickie’s door and see us inside the lobby. Kickie’s eyes were as wide as a child’s on Christmas morning. Dressed in a black beaded sweater with perfectly coordinated jewelry, she followed Steve to a comfy sofa. The general manager approached. “Are you Kickie?” he asked. “Yes,” Kickie said, a bit surprised. Then he got down on one knee and sang “Happy Birthday,” which brought tears to her eyes.

Once we reached the Club Level, we checked into our room, and Kickie beamed at the city views and elegant decor. “It suits you perfectly,” Steve said. Then we headed for the Club Lounge, where the club concierge greeted us and pointed us to the complimentary food and beverage presentations. “Would you like a cocktail?” she asked. I ordered a vodka martini and Steve grabbed a sparkling water from the fridge. Kickie, who rarely drinks, wasn’t sure what to order, so the concierge brought her a Kir Royale (Champagne, Chambord liqueur, and fresh raspberries).

Later that evening the Ritz had one of their drivers take us to our dinner destination, Osso Steakhouse, where I chose fresh abalone, and Kickie ordered the bone-in filet mignon, which I consider the best steak in the city.

Back at the Ritz, Kickie changed into one of her signature pastel satin gowns, slipped into the 400-thread-count sheets, and pulled the fluffy down comforter up to her chin. “Such luxury,” she said. “Thank you for such a beautiful day.” I leaned over and kissed her forehead. “You deserve it,” I said. “Happy birthday, Kickie.”

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