The Top of the Mark, an iconic landmark, is reopened.
Story and Photos by John Sundsmo.
First opened in 1939 and open for 80 years, this iconic San Francisco landmark was closed by the Covid-19 pandemic. It was a comfort zone for servicemen and women shipping out to the Pacific in World War II, also the Vietnam and Korean wars. As my wife and I recently discovered, the venerable Top of the Mark is reopened with a new generation of comforts. Positioned at the very top of downtown San Francisco’s highest hill (Nob Hill), the 19th floor of the Mark Hopkins hotel, affectionately known as the Top of the Mark, has given patrons dominant views of San Francisco since its opening. The newly reopened Top of the Mark offers post-pandemic comforts including live music with dancing on Friday nights, light appetizers and, signature cocktails. To support and nurture local businesses, the menu now includes cocktails prepared with Hanson organic wine-Vodka from Sonoma, which is paired with Kollar specialty chocolates from Napa.
Comfort for servicemen and women in World War II consisted of a large circular bar that provided a lasting inspirational view of home in the USA. In the Vietnam War, comrades left bottles of favorite whisky for those who might follow in their footsteps. Today, the bar is gone, replaced with a dance floor. Signature martinis and cocktails have not been replaced and, the views from every window remain spectacular.
Another bit of history is on display in the entry. During World War II and the subsequent Korean Conflict and Vietnam War, aviators purchased commemorative bottles of whiskey and scotch for squadron comrades so they might enjoy a “squadron shot.”
One poetic bottle message reads:
“We toast our hearty comrades who have fallen from the skies, And were gently by God’s own hand welcomed to be with him on high, To dwell among the soaring clouds they have known so well before, From victory roll to tail chase, at heavens very door, And as we fly among them there we’re sure to hear their plea, Take care my friend, watch yourself, And do one more roll for me! “
It all began much differently on Nob Hill, named for the Nabobs of the Central Pacific Railroad who built their mansions there in the late 18th century.
As cable cars were constructed up Powell and Hyde streets to the top of the highest hill, real estate prices soared. The barons of the Central Pacific Railroad, Stanford, Crocker, Huntington, and Hopkins, chose this high hill site for their mansions. The transcendent location grandly exhibited their wealth and privilege. They were derisively referred to as Nabobs, a term coined for those who gained their wealth at the expense of ordinary people. The San Francisco landmark became affectionately known as Nob Hill, a designation carried down until today. The Mark Hopkins mansion withstood the earthquake of 1906 but was consumed by the resultant fire. Although firefighters made a gallant stand atop the hill, the dribble of water making it to the heights made the fight futile and all the baron’s mansions were lost.
George Smith, a mining engineer, and hotel entrepreneur purchased the ashes of the Hopkins mansion and built the elegant Mark Hopkins Hotel which opened in 1928. Smith had a penthouse for himself constructed atop the hotel but wisely converted it to a lounge, the Top of the Mark, in 1939.
His timing could not have been better. Servicemen and their dates stood in line for an hour just to board an elevator to the 19th floor for a drink, music and, a last view of the San Francisco Bay from the Top of the Mark. For many, it was a final stop before shipping out to the Pacific theater in World War II. In those days, there was no non-stop air service to Hawaii, just a very long worrisome week on a Liberty ship constantly hoping there were no hostile submarines or aircraft on the horizon intent on ending your life.
Today, after a year of cave-like monastic solitude for my wife and me, the vibes from The Top of the Mark were generous and welcoming. Unlike the service members of World War II, we didn’t have to ship out to an unknown future (although we were fearful in 2020). Since vaccination, we thankfully don’t have to worry about a premature demise. For us, giving thanks with two martinis in a quintessential San Francisco landmark comfort zone was a fitting coming-out-of-pandemic party. The Top of the Mark seemed intent on providing us all the ingredients we needed to relax, enjoy life and take comfort.
A final commemorative bottle message from Top of the Mark: “To my father, Raymond M., Uncle Arnold (Baton Death March survivor), Uncle Buddy, My Son-In-Law Patrick, my brother Conrad, and all the men and women who have served, and especially to those who did not return. I want to raise this glass to you all. To honor and thank you for the freedom we all enjoy today. God bless you all and God Bless the USA. Raymond A. Beckser, Jr., Captain USAF.”
For all who served, in war and in the Covid-19 hospitals and clinics -THANK YOU!
IF YOU GO
InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel: Top of the Mark offers cocktails and light appetizers in a penthouse lounge setting. A complete farm-to-table dining experience is offered in the InterContinental Mark Hopkins restaurant at the Nob Hill Club.
Hanson Specialty Vodka: Family-owned and operated in Sonoma for the past eight years. All Organic, no sugar, no additives “..if it is made well it doesn’t need anything” (Alanna Hanson).
Vodkas: Original, Habanero, Cucumber, Meyer Lemon, Mandarin, Ginger, and Grapefruit Vodka.
Specialty cocktails: Guava lava cocktail – organic Habanero and Mandarin vodka, organic lime, guava, and agave; Mandarin Greyhound – organic Mandarin vodka, organic grapefruit, Meyer Lemon and organic agave; Cucumber gimlet – organic cucumber vodka, organic limes and agave; Mango Tango – organic Habanero vodka, fresh mango, organic lime and agave; Poms & Roses – organic Meyer Lemon vodka, pomegranate juice, organic lemon, orange bitters, and organic agave.
Kollar Chocholates: Chef Chris Kollar has studied the classic chocolates of Switzerland, France, and Italy to acquire his knowledge and create his classic European-style chocolates in Yountville, Napa Valley.
Specialties: Dang Hazy (coconut chips, hazelnut praline); Passion Fruit (passion fruit, milk chocolate grenache), Whiskey (whiskey dark, chocolate grenache), Hazelnut Crunch (roasted hazelnuts, milk chocolate), Strawberry Fiz (Pop rocks, strawberry white chocolate), Kollar Krack (Pop rocks, dark chocolate), Dark Chocolate Rochers (roasted slivered almonds, dark chocolate).