Interviewing Tom Wolfe is akin to being granted a presence with Les Clef d’Or royalty. The venerable hospitality expert was not only the first American concierge to be granted the coveted golden keys, but is also the founder of the US Les Clefs d’Or chapter — now more than 600-strong.

After working in Europe and south east Asia for many years, consulting to some of the world’s finest hotels, and training others in the art of the warm and professional guest relations that come so naturally to him, Wolfe made his home in San Francisco. He works at the hotel that has had his heart for many years, the Fairmont’s first and original property — a beautiful building that has served as an enclave for the rich, famous, and interesting since 1907.

Tom Wolfe
Image: Sarah Laurence Tom Wolfe

Where is the party? Everywhere! The wonderful thing about San Francisco is that we have all kinds of parties — we have Carnaval, the North Beach Festival, and the Folsom Street Fair.

Best secret eatery loved by locals? There’s a bunch of hole-in-the-wall
places not in the tourist areas — I go to a little Vietnamese noodle place on Clement Street.

Ferry Plaza interior
Image: Sarah Laurence Ferry Plaza interior

An outdoor activity worth doing? On Saturday you have the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. The whole building is devoted to all things culinary — if you have even the slightest interest in food, it’s wonderful. You’ll see chefs
shopping there — for some reason I always bump into Alice Waters, the Queen of California cuisine. Also, Sausalito is a lovely little town just across the bay from us, which is a tiny mirror image of San Francisco. 

The best art in town? The Museum of Modern Art just reopened after a hiatus of more than two years, and it’s marvellous. We’ve also got the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, which periodically gets wonderful exhibitions. 

Laurel Court bar
Image: Sarah Laurence Laurel Court bar

Best place to hear local music? First of all, we have the San Francisco Symphony, we have the ballet, and we also have the opera. And then the San Francisco Jazz Centre, as we have a very vibrant jazz scene in town. Our own artist-in-residence is Tony Bennet, who comes to stay frequently. This is where he debuted his song, I Left My Heart in San Francisco, more than 50 years ago.

A new, high-end restaurant you have to eat at? Well, we have a great three-star Michelin restaurant right here in town, Saison. It’s a hip place, where you can eat at the bar, and the kitchen is the whole side of the room. Older high-end restaurant favourites are La Folie and Acquerello.

Fresh lavender at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market
Image: Sarah Laurence Fresh lavender at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

Great spot for a business meeting? When I wanted to do something off the wall, I took my staff to the Japanese Tea Garden — it immediately gets you into  a zen mode.

Where’s the best local spa? The Nob Hill Spa, right across the street. They’re really good, and they’re good people. 

You can’t come to San Francisco without? A visit to Alcatraz — although it can be harder to get into than heaven! 

The Fairmont exterior
Image: Sarah Laurence The Fairmont exterior

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