The courtesies of a gentler era can still be found at the only historic hotel still operating in downtown Phoenix, the grand Hotel San Carlos, this year celebrating 75 years of graceful and elegant service.
Immediately the Hotel San Carlos occupied a prominent place in the Phoenix social arena. There were not many places that could be called "fashionable", where one could go to be seen. The Hotel San Carlos, with card rooms and a place for dancing, was called "smart". The Arizona Gazette noted that the hotel had a "smoking lounge and writing room". The Palm Room of the lobby served as the cocktail area. The hotel's French Café restaurant became a noted dining spot. Literature for the hotel boasted that its French onion soup was the best in town, and fashionable Phoenicians were known, according to the newspaper columns of the day, to enjoy the onion soup on Sunday afternoons. Members of the state legislature would have drinks in the Palm Room after a day at the Capitol building.
During the heyday of Hollywood in the forties and fifties, celebrities such as Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Carole Lombard, Jean Harlow, Cary Grant, Gene Autry, Marilyn Monroe, Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, and others stayed - and played - at the Hotel San Carlos.
"Mae West stayed here during her run at the Orpheum theatre," says hotel general manager Bruce Barnes. "After one performance, she stopped at the front desk, asked that champagne be delivered to her suite with two glasses, and that she not be disturbed until 3 p.m. the next day."
The Melikian family, owners for the past thirty-one years, have been keeping this tradition alive: to commemorate the Hotel San Carlos' sixty-fifth anniversary in March, 1993, the San Carlos Hollywood Star Walk was inlaid on both the Central and Monroe sidewalks adjacent to the hotel with the names of famous movie stars and big band leaders who occupied the hotel while playing at the Orpheum theatre, or the Palace West theater, or the Riverside Ballroom. In addition, suites on each floor of the hotel were named in honor of the famous visitors who slept in them.
Rich in design as well as history, the Hotel San Carlos is visually reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance period. The entrances are decorated with vertical ribbed, glazed terra cotta tiles.
Above the entryway, at the second and third floor levels, are neoclassical column ornamentations. Fabulous artwork by the likes of Frank Weston Benson, Frederic Remington, Charles M. Russell, Thomas Moran, and Albert Bierstadt can be found gracing each floor, making the walk to your room like passing through a famous art gallery.
"The Hotel San Carlos was the first skyscraper, had the first elevator, and the first suicide," says history-enthusiast Dawna Higgins of Phoenix.
At 2:30 a.m. May 7, 1928, just months after the opening of the Hotel San Carlos, a 22-year-old woman garbed in a fashionable evening gown jumped from the roof to her death in the street below. Miss Leone Jensen left a note, explaining that she was heart-broken from being spurned in love by a bellboy who worked in another hotel. Today her ghost has been seen in a white gown, and Barnes says the housekeeping staff will never go to the seventh floor except in twos and threes. The entire hotel staff talks of paintings on seventh floor walls that remain crooked no matter how often straightened, and clock radios, turned off, that come on again by themselves. A woman's figure, in the form of a white cloud, accompanied by unexplainable breezes, has often been reported.
There are also confirmed reports that the ghosts of young children have been heard running through the halls of the San Carlos.
"Four Indian children drowned in the well in the late 1800s," explains Barnes. The San Carlos water well, originally built for the schoolhouse in 1874 and still operating in the hotel's basement, is believed to be the center of the countercurrent. "But they're happy ghosts. They laugh and cackle and giggle. Cynthia, the head housekeeper, the engineering staff, and even nearby store tenants have heard them.
"There's definitely phenomenon here," adds Barnes. A normally practical Australian, Barnes relates how psychics and psychologists of the paranormal have visited the hotel and come away convinced of ghostly presences.
Spirits notwithstanding, much of the Hotel San Carlos retains original elements. "This was the original chilled water faucet from 1928. Thank you for enjoying part of our history," reads the sign above the white ceramic pedestal sink with hot and cold antique brass fixtures. Ornately detailed paneling and recessed ceiling coffers adorn the lobby, and the original Austrian crystal chandeliers, sconces, and mirrors have been returned. One of the two original attendant-operated elevator cars, both faced with the original copper-clad doors, still functions on its original manual controllers.
The sign over the door bids Cead mile failte, "a hundred thousand welcomes".
This charming and popular Irish pub in the Hotel San Carlos serves excellent food, live traditional Irish music, a fine selection of Irish whiskeys, and no less than - count 'em -10 draft beers on tap.
But first a hearty portion of corned beef & cabbage, carrots and potatoes, served with home-made Irish soda bread and butter and washed down with a New Castle Brown Ale (on tap, of course). Or perhaps what the bartender called "American Irish Stew" (made with beef instead of lamb) with which he recommends the Harp Lager or the Bass Ale, also on tap.
The menu also sports beer-battered fish 'n' chips with lots of malt vinegar, steak and mushroom pie, and traditional "boxty's". These dishes are built atop a potato-based grilled pancake, "a boxty", an old recipe unique to Galway in the west of Ireland. All Boxty dishes come with Irish soda bread and butter. There is even a vegetarian boxty and a steak and Guinness Stout boxty, all at very reasonable prices.
We had to try the Wexford Irish Cream Ale (also on tap) to see if it really tasted like Irish cream. It does - in a mild way that compliments the basic taste of beer.
Like the Hotel San Carlos, Séamus McCaffrey's Irish Pub & Restaurant reflects a history of its own. The entire ceiling is of Victorian stamped copper panels that have been completely restored. The well-worn wooden floors, tables, chairs and bar exude comfort. Behind the bar is an immense collection of police patches, both old and current, from Phoenix and all over the country. And what would an Irish pub be without photos of the Kennedy brothers and the owner's favorite soccer team?
Yes, there really is a Séamus McCaffrey, known for profane banter and reputed to be the first man kicked out of Bank One Ballpark.
The high tourism season in Phoenix is from October through April, so it's not too soon to plan your next winter getaway to warmth and sunshine.
By Carolyn Proctor, Las Vegas Correspondent.