The U.S. Grant: A Historical Hotspot in San Diego

The U.S. Grant, A Luxury Collection Hotel is a 270-room landmark in San Diego, situated in the city’s lively downtown Gaslamp Quarter. Since 1910 the Grant welcomed celebrities, U.S. presidents and large groups into the hotel’s historic Grand Lobby, adorned with sparkling crystal chandeliers, silk carpets and primrose accents. Ulysses S. Grant Jr. developed the historic hotel and named the property after his father.

Nathan Davis, director of operations, showed our group the 6,000-sf Celestial Ballroom, which in previous incarnations was used as both a secret speakeasy and Turkish bath. Surrounded by blue walls and barrel ceilings, wooden stage and lit columns, Davis said the hotel hosts a lot of Titanic-themed events here.

The 2,700-sf Crystal Ballroom is the glitteriest meeting spot at the U.S. Grant. The elegant event space is lined with original moldings, floors and turquoise pillars. The ballroom was added in the late 1920’s for the social elite of San Diego and shows off that generation’s signature glamour. Gold and black tiles reflect light off the Czechoslovakian chandeliers on the hand-painted ceilings. I can’t help but feel like I’m some sort of VIP at a snazzy party in the roaring 20’s.

The Chairman’s Court prefunction space is ideal for groups to withdraw and bond over drinks and light bites between events. The halls have the original Moroccan tiles from the Turkish baths intact.

“I try not to sound like a museum curator,” explains Davis. “But there’s an insane amount of history flowing through the hotel.”

The hotel includes 33,000 sf of meeting space, including 22 historical breakouts. The Sycuan tribe of the Kumeyaay Nation owns the property. In 2006, Sycuan invested $56 million to restore the property to its original magnificence. During that time, they added primrose patterns throughout the hotel. The yellow flower is indigenous to San Diego and the symbol of the tribe. Their presence is prominent in the design of the entire hotel.

During our stroll through the echoing halls, we sampled some of the hotels award-winning cocktails. Bartender Jeff Josenhans has created fun group mixology events based on his “farm-to-bar” philosophy. I sip on a Sentential Manhattan made from the hotel’s signature barrel of aged whiskey. Another favorite is the Baja Betty, created with muddled blood oranges and blood orange bitters.

“I like to combine the knowledge of food, wine, beer and liquor into my group programs,” says Josenhans. “Sometimes I’m inspired by an item I see in the kitchen and I end up building an entire cocktail event around it.” Josenhans won the 2011 Nightclub & Bar “Shake It Up” cocktail competition in Las Vegas. The following year the U.S. Grant Grill won the award for “Best Hotel Bar” in the same publication.

The 85-seat grill opened in 1951 and has continued as one of San Diego’s most stylish eateries. For a long time it was actually a men’s club after 3 p.m. That all changed during a famous protest in 1969 when six women stayed past the allotted time. The “Men Only” signs still remain on the exterior; however, the bar was filled with female executives while we were there. In that sense, I valued my presence in the lounge even more.

At dinner, the most memorable course was the chef’s specialty, a fried poached egg. The crunchy exterior combined with the gooey egg yolk was unfamiliar and pleasantly delicious. Book the 10-seat private dining room to participate in the Supper Club experience. It’s a 3, 4 or 5-course wine tasting dinner followed by dancing in the adjoining Lounge. The Grant Grill hosts groups up to 140 for private functions.

After dinner, Davis fills us in on some of the historic details throughout the property. The 11th floor Presidential Suite was the first location outside of Washington, D.C. where President Franklin Roosevelt broadcasted his famous fireside chat. There’s also a time capsule hidden in a suitcase beneath the main stairwell in the lobby. We also checked out some of the historic paintings, letters, dishes and other relics from the hotel’s early years.

“Little pieces of the hotels history are still popping up; they somehow keep falling into my lap,” says Davis. Speaking about the time capsule suitcase, he says, “We added an iPad last time it was opened and sealed it.” The time capsule will not be opened again until 2056.