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The Great Sacramento Escape
The Citizen Hotel evokes times of grandeur
 
 By Adam Saake                                                                          
 September 2009
I arrived early on a Friday for my stay at The Citizen Hotel as I had an appointment with the lovely Sarah Essary, the Citizen’s public relations coordinator, who was to show me the insides and out of the hotel, and I wanted to get settled into my room first. As I pulled up to the valet station that is located on the busy, one-way J Street that pipes through downtown Sacramento, I was greeted by a trio of young crew-cut twenty somethings who rushed to whisk my car away. I first extracted my bags from the shallow depths of my well used Ford Escort that I honestly felt silly for valeting in the first place. It was early July, mind you, so the heat was apparent and my bags were heavy. I trudged to the front entrance, unaware of the momentous night that lay ahead.  
 
I walked through heavy double doors into the entryway corridor, which was my first introduction to the classic elements of the hotel that designers Candra Scott & Anderson left unchanged. Circular grooves in the floor that are just past the main entrance are reminders of the original revolving doors that once spun guests inside. The mail shoot - a novelty no longer in use - protruded from the wall in a side corridor. The details on the ceiling were mesmerizing. And on a small quaint table with one solitary chair, was a well worn book containing pictures and history of other grand hotels. These artifacts of a different time not only added to the charm of the Citizen, but they also evoked a feeling of mysticism. I felt connected to the past experiences of those that had once walked through the same long corridor. And that’s the point - Candra Scott & Anderson kept certain classic features of the hotel as not only key elements of vintage-meets-modern décor, but as a way to preserve the past. It is a romance of preservation, of understanding the building’s previous incarnations and of highlighting Sacramento’s rich history of ferrying boats and pioneers with pick axes, politicians with agendas. It’s all here - wrapped up inside of the hotel walls.
 
When I entered into the lobby, my eyes were immediately changed; fully encapsulated by interior design at its finest. I began so see the hotel through the lens of the early 20th Century upper class - treated to handcrafted Victorian-era furniture that was wrapped in gorgeous royal blue fabrics; each one carefully riveted and designed specifically for The Citizen. Bookshelves lined the walls of the lobby and were filled from floor to ceiling with old law books that were donated to the hotel by a law office that once occupied space inside the renovated Cal Western Life Insurance Co. building. The moment I saw the books, I was instantly smitten by such a concept. The books are a large collection that all have the same binding and spine design, so what you get is a kind of faux wallpaper that is in perfect harmony with the rest of the furniture and fixtures in the lobby. My favorite feature, excluding the political cartoons in small frames that are collected on the walls and pillars, was a gorgeous chess table and clock that is set off the to the left of the front desk. Also, a new but rather important addition to the hotel is a black and white drawing of two hands in an opportunistic embrace that hangs high on the wall in the lobby. The Citizen’s bipartisan imagery is echoed all throughout the hotel if you pay close attention. Giant black and white photos of protests and politicians line the walls. On one side, you’ll find a candid photo of Republican President Reagan signing autographs - something he had experience doing long before his career in politics, no doubt. On the other side hangs a picture of Democrat Jerry Brown in an equally fascinating composition. All are welcome, whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat or anything in between. Sacramento is the capitol city after all, and politics are part of our blood.  
 
After taking the elevator to the 20th floor, I found my room that was tucked into the back corner of the hallway - number 2100. I swiped my key and opened the door to my room and was overtaken by the gorgeous décor of my very chic one bedroom suite. Cream and mustard striped wallpaper set the backdrop for a screaming red plush couch with a wrought-iron mirror that hung above. Details, like a lampshade with old script from the Constitution and the ornate patterns in the carpet were enough to make my eyes bounce from one end of the room to the other. A beautiful hardwood desk across from the couch came equipped with high speed internet as well as a hard-bound binder with the words “In the Know” embossed on the cover that sat neatly on top. I opened it to find a plethora of information that would truly put you “in the know” to navigate a wonderful night on the town. A large Phillips flat screen TV hung above the desk and when I flipped it on, CSPAN came on immediately. I peeked into the bathroom to find vintage chicken wire tiling on the floor which I later saw echoed in the hallways. A black framed mirror with gold stars on the corners hung above a Carrera marble-top sink with a deep red wooden base. A shaving and sewing kit sat neatly in boxes next to a glass jar full of Q-tips and ear plugs - anything to make your stay more comfortable and accommodating. Some extras that impressed me were simple items like a red umbrella with a classic wooden handle that hung in the armoire. Next to it, heavy white bath robes with The Citizen’s golden seal embroidered onto the chest. And later in the evening when I went to look for an iron, I found a small steamer instead which I gleefully appropriated for my wrinkled woes.
 
There continued to be more to discover and therefore, more to enjoy as my evening progressed. I became further intrigued when I remembered Essary telling me that out of the 198 rooms, only a handful are identical. There in lies the essence of a boutique hotel - individuality.
 
I wasn’t always sure what a boutique hotel was. Did it mean that there were designer clothing in the armoires? Were there stations for hair and nails in the lobby? A bed and breakfast perhaps? The boutique hotel we know today first hit the scene in the early '80s and was a response to the gigantic high-rise hotels that were more like malls than anything else. The hotel was made to be smaller and with a fewer rooms; sometimes as few as three - with beautifully designed interiors that commonly worked off the theme of whatever building the hotel had overtaken for renovation.  
 
The Citizen is one of thirty-five boutique hotels that is managed by Joie de Vivre Hospitality and is Sacramento’s first and only full service boutique hotel. The hotel and Grange restaurant are owned by Rubicon Partners and the project took a total of four years to complete from the purchase of the building to the opening of The Citizen's doors in November of 2008. Since the opening, The Citizen has been off to a running start.
 
“Thanks to the action at our State Capitol and weekend promotions, we're doing well considering the tough economic times,” says Essary about Sacramento’s support of the hotel.  
 
You’d think that staying at a boutique hotel would be a luxury for most people on a budget, but it’s actually quite reasonable when compared to the expenses of traveling. The Citizen is right in Sacramento’s backyard, afterall.
 
“The locals are embracing the hotel as a staycation destination and premier venue for events and weddings. We have at least one wedding every weekend through November already on the books.”
 
The 198 rooms range from king deluxe guest rooms to penthouse suites. The Citizen might be considered too big by boutique hotel standards, but my stay did not reflect this however; and if anything, the availability and hospitality of the staff was literally at my fingertips. Simply pick up your room telephone to have your car pulled up, or buzz The Grange to have your reservations moved back a touch. The latter being the most surprising considering the popularity of one of Sacramento’s newest dining hot spots.  
 
A hotel restaurant should be able to do two things - serve the needs of the hotel guests as well as impress the locals who are looking for great cuisine. Grange does just that. Sacramento has already fallen in love with the impressive menu that changes daily and includes enticing dining experiences that go beyond your standard expectations. The Grange embraces the slow food movement that was started in Italy in the mid eighties and “whose aim is to protect the pleasures of the table from the homogenization of modern fast food and life,” says Slow Food Sacramento’s SACWIKI page. Chef Michael Tuohy creates his menu around what’s local and what’s in season. Don’t come to the restaurant in December and expect to see a tomato on the menu; it probably won’t be there.
 
Designer Michael Guthrie hit the nail, or should I say the steel beam, on the head with the design of Grange. The restaurant is an add-on that comes out from the side of the hotel and faces 10th St. Guthrie kept the original steel support beams as a rustic feature of the restaurant and they work perfectly with the two story design. The use of the beams is no surprise considering his talent for splendid use of space, championing the design of such Sacramento hot spots as Esquire Grill and Spataro.
 
With my outfit freshly steamed and looking sharp, my date and I walked into The Grange fashionably late and looking like two characters from a Jack Vettriano painting. We were seated quickly and surveyed the menu, excited for a dinner that both of us had truly been looking forward to. Our meal began with a bottle of the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from B.R. Cohn, a recommendation from my dinner date. If you don’t have menu decision making skills, then listen to someone who does because I was indecisive and the wine was phenomenal, all way down to the story our server relayed to us about Mr. Cohn’s early success with managing the Doobie Brothers.
 
 
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The Citizen Hotel
926 J St
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 447-2700
 
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