Review of The Park James:
Hotel Work Package Debuts in Menlo Park
By Kathy Chin Leong

NorthbayStJamesWinter2020-5.jpgEver since the majority of tech companies ordered employees to work at home, personnel have been laboring harder than ever.  There is virtually no distinction between work and home life. There is no commute. There is no stepping into the doorway of your abode and waving goodbye to the weekday grind. These boundaries are blurring in a not-so-healthy way. 

Hotels that launched "do school from your hotel" promotions for families are also marketing “work from your hotel room” packages for adults.  These are not gimmicks, mind you, but have become essential services for mental well-being.  Most of us don’t live in mansions with pools and tennis courts where we can take a break between Zoom meetings, so the four walls around us can feel like they are closing in. And the longer this pandemic lasts, the harder it is to emotionally stay anchored and positive because, no matter how you cut it, such a limited lifestyle ain’t normal.

A November sojourn to the new Park James Hotel yielded much respite in 24 hours.  Located on the bustling  thoroughfare of El Camino Real in Menlo Park, home of venture capital funders and moneyed tech execs, the Park James is a 61-room, four-story boutique hotel that was erected just a year ago.  It replaced a gas station, and it is walking distance to the quaint downtown Menlo Park on Santa Cruz Avenue, the town’s favorite, Kepler Books, and the beloved Barrone Café, the place where many European nannies used to hang out with their strollered charges. 

NorthbayStJamesWinter2020-11.jpgWORK PACKAGE
The actual package called “Work from Park James” runs $179 which includes a hotel room accessible from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., wi-fi, coffee/tea, two bottles of water, printing for up to 15 pages, and access to the open-air hotel gym and in-house restaurant dubbed Oak + Violet for dinner.  A variety of packages on the website will allow you to choose what fits you at this moment in time.  

To get the full “Work from Park James” experience, my husband Frank and I decided to spend the night prior to our workday so that we could maximize the hotel amenities.  Already, local Menlo Park residents, even the ones with mega-mansions, have come to clear their heads and enjoy a change of scenery.

Spending the night will cost about $450 for a regular room. If you want a suite, that will run you about twice the amount.  Then there’s parking that runs about $25 a day.  That said, you are now informed.

In case you are worried about Covid and its nasty germs, you can rest assured that the hotel has taken several precautionary measures.  First, each guest room features individual HVAC units.  This means that visitors never share oxygen through the vents of another guest room. Fortunately, each courtyard-facing unit comes with a sliding glass door for fresh air. Second, the rooms are each sanitized with hospital-grade disinfectants and UV light technology after each guest stay.  Third, rooms are not interrupted by housekeeping during your booking so as to keep strangers apart from one another as much as possible.  And of course, masks are worn at all times by staff, and visitors and guests are required to wear masks in all of the public areas, especially the elevators.  

NorthbayStJamesWinter2020-7.jpgDESIGN CUES
What type of place is this luxury dwelling? The Park James is intended as a nod to the city's Irish history, after Dennis James Oliver, one of the ranchers who gave Menlo Park its name, notes Jeff Pollock, co-owner and senior vice president of the Pollock Financial Group. Hence,  images of horses dot the premises which now makes a lot of sense.  The hotel moniker is also an homage to his father, James Moore Pollock, who has developed over 80 real estate projects, mostly in the Bay Area.

The owners did not hesitate when it came to investing in chic interior design where everything appears  perfectly curated and ready for a magazine photo shoot.  The San Francisco design firm, Parissa O’Connell Interior Design, has created a space that merges the indoors and outdoors as evidenced by sliding glass walls between the dining areas and the patios.  A light installation that consists of a ceiling vista of drop down light rods near the entrance is an arresting show-stopper. 

NorthbayStJamesWinter2020-9.jpgIn the lobby on the right, a floor-to-ceiling wall of light wood, studded in a graphic array of little gold-colored disks steals your gaze.  Small test tubes slung with thin leather straps, hang on the disks.   For today, these are filled with fresh orchid blossoms. 
And other visual surprises await such as cheeky signage. On one wall, a light-up marquee reads: “A Safe Home at The Park James.” Above the main door, “No Strangers Here, only New Friends” is lit in neon.
Furnishings run masculine modern. In the bedroom we were pleasantly surprised by our vintage-inspired standing gray armoire that featured leather strap handles.  The bed, covered with ubiquitous modern white linens, featured a wide brown leather tufted headboard that ran the width of the wall with side reading lights attached to each side. of the bed. A thick gray and white Irish wool blanket embroidered with the initials “PJ” was folded delicately and draped at the foot of our king-sized bed.  Cute bedside tables, made of wood, each had a single drawer with an attached leather tab pull.  

NorthbayStJamesWinter2020-2.jpgUnique was the welcome iPad on the side table that displayed the guest name, time and date, and could also be used to request services.  Also making this boutique hotel distinct was the coffee service on the pullout slider under the desk that featured a special glass carafe, a dripper, and coffee grounds from Ritual Coffee Roasters of San Francisco.   

I have reviewed hotel rooms for all sorts of publications for more than ten years.  At Park James, the guest rooms are not super big. There are but a few feet around the bed on all sides, but these rooms will do when you are coming to log in your hours for business/
A lengthy desktop outfitted with computer plugs and sturdy work chair is ample for what you need.  The work package here is designed for one person, and two people may find it hard to share a desktop or a room, especially if you are running a Zoom meeting.  

NorthbayStJamesWinter2020-1.jpgI gave Frank the desk, and I tried using the bed to set up my laptop, and then I tried working via the room’s lovely velvet green lounge chair and ottoman, but it was not comfortable for me, so I asked to use the spaces downstairs.  I suppose you can request permission to use the restaurant when it is not in use.  I was able to secure an empty ballroom because no one was using it on this weekday.

Frank was definitely productive all day long, and then some, as he sequestered himself in the room thinking, organizing, and laboring online with a pantheon of meetings where he was brain-storming with coworkers around the world.  Useful for him was the small refrigerator to store snacks and drinks because, as you know, snacking and hydrating are essential when you toil solo.  Also comfy for the both of us were the hotel slippers and robes since, that is the hotel thing to do, right?

NorthbayAutoWineWinter2020-1.jpgTAKING BREAKS
A swap of scenery is also good for the soul when you have to put in 12-15 hour days in order to meet deadlines.  We were able to take a break and drive 10 minutes to nearby AutoVino, a wine tasting room that is located in a garage of luxury cars.  You get to taste and walk amid fancy automobiles that are stored there by enthusiasts from all over the Bay Area.  Wines are made by Woodside Vineyards and reserved tastings are only $15.

The hotel partners with a host of massage therapists, so I was able to sneak in a massage on the premises. The hotel dedicates a room for indoor massage and space outside as well.  At $65 for a 30-minute chair massage and $75 for a 30-minute table massage, you can take advantage of this opportunity to pamper yourself.

At the end of our power workday, we sat down to a warm, toasty meal at Oak + Violet, a posh eatery with indoor  dining (when COVID-19 rules are relaxed),  outdoor dining, and to-go service.  There are plenty of heat lamps, so you can enjoy the exterior patio in a comfortable manner throughout the evening.

The restaurant, featuring California flavors with an Italian flair is helmed by Chef Simona Oliveri, who recently moved to the Bay Area from Italy.  Prices are extremely fair. We shared a plate of Brussel sprouts ($10), puttanesca pizza ($18), autumn figs ($19), and the special of the day, a $48 rib eye served on a chunky wooden cutting board with a dinosaur-sized bone for extra “Wow “ factor .  Of course we inhailed desserts of dark chocolate mousse and tiramisu at only $10 each.  These desserts were so delicious with the exact amount of sweetness balanced with chocolate that we felt like we were flown to Italy.   

NorthbayStJamesWinter2020-13.jpgEach item was al dente to the bite, seared, baked, or roasted to the point of perfection. Nothing was soggy or overcooked or undercooked.  Sauces were thickened appropriately and not gloppy ,nor were they too salty. Savory and sweet flavors tasted authentic, herbaceous when needed,  and true to form with high quality ingredients. No faking it, here! 

While there is no swimming pool on this street-side property, this urban retreat will offer you more than you will need during your workday stay.  The Park James, with its luxurious décor, fantastic outdoor space and delicious restaurant fare, plus friendly service with a Covid-clean environment gets a positive check mark on all fronts. And as a staycation during the mid-week, you can definitely take time to drop some mini-holiday time into your schedule.  I must say, it should be on your “must-do” list, especially now.

When You Go:
Park James Hotel
1400 E. El Camino Real
Menlo Park
Package rate: $179 

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