Last year, I wrote that the closing of the Fairmont Hotel was the end of an era for downtown San Jose. Well, it’s time to start a new one, with the opening this week of the Signia by Hilton.
Yeah, it’s going to take a while to get used to “Signia” instead of “Fairmont,” but right now we can be happy to have a place to gather during big downtown events like San Jose Jazz Summer Fest, Christmas in the Park, the Veterans Day Parade and Cinequest.
With the exception of some sign changes, the Market Street hotel — which originally opened in 1987 — looks the same on the outside. But it’s a whole new world inside with the renovated reception area and the lobby lounge, which is now called Aji Bar and Robata. The cream columns and dance floor of the Fairmont — a look charitably described as “old elegance” — has been replaced by wood-paneling, arched entry ways and a horseshoe-shaped bar in the center complete with discreet outlets to charge your phone.
The old two-top tables have been replaced by groups of comfy chairs and couches. There are tables where the business-minded can break out a laptop, a modern “conversation pit” with a couch that could seat a party of 20, and a couple of big screen TVs tucked away. Taken together, it’s like a marriage between late ’70s design and 21st century functionality.
The food menu — devised by Executive Chef Hans Lentz, who previously worked in Dubai and Hawaii — is infused with Latin and Asian flavors, from the chicken wings cooked in a yuzu kosho honey glaze to the Wagyu beef sliders topped with fried avocado and queso fresco. The same goes for the cocktails, like the mezcal-based Negroni Rosita, the Margarita Picante (garnished with wasabi caviar on a plantain chip) and the Eastern Martini, a take on the Vesper that includes sake, citrus miso and chive oil.
You might be in for post-pandemic sticker shock as all the cocktails on the menu are $17-$18 (and even a draft beer goes for $10-$11), but that seems to be becoming the new normal at higher-end joints. Also, it would be great to add a craft brew or two from one of the locals like Camino, Narrative Fermentations or Clandestine. Surely, that would be more interesting for an out-of-town guest than a Blue Moon or a Stella Artois.
The sleek renovation fits perfectly with the vibe Hilton wants to create with its elevated Signia brand, but it actually started back in 2019 and was pretty much complete when the pandemic shut everything down in March 2020. The space was dark and unused for more than two years, as the hotel went into and out of bankruptcy over the past year.
But maybe opening Aji now instead of then was really a blessing. We can keep separate our fond memories of good times at the Fairmont and start making new ones at the Signia.
SURPRISE COMMENDATION: The San Jose City Council presented a commendation Tuesday to the Bay Area Furniture Bank, a six-year-old nonprofit that provides families in need with slightly used furniture donated by hotels, college campuses, tech companies and other sources. The nonprofit, founded in 2016 by retired tech sales guy Ray Piontek, has diverted about 23,000 pieces of furniture from going to the landfill — roughly 1,400 tons that would fill up 56 garbage trucks.
Bay Area Furniture Bank board member Joe Noonan was at the meeting for that item, and when it finished, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo told him to stick around. Noonan was presented with an unexpected commendation for his work as an advocate and champion for San Jose. (It was unexpected for Noonan, but I’m guessing not for the dozen fans, including his father, Joe Noonan Sr., who showed up at the council chambers.)
As Liccardo listed all the organizations Noonan has worked or volunteered for — including Christmas in the Park, the San Jose Downtown Association and the city’s Viva Calle team — the mayor said, “He’s got a lot of friends in this city. Joe has a superpower of bringing people together. Every conversation includes, ‘Hey, I’ve got to introduce you to somebody.’ “
Noonan, who is battling Stage 4 cancer, said he’s benefitted from many opportunities to work with leaders in the business, civic and nonprofit sectors. “I often say that San Jose is a city that keeps trying. And it does,” he said. “We are an awesome city.”
MAYORAL CANDIDATES HIT THE ICE: There are lots of issues at hand for this year’s race to be the next San Jose mayor, but the San Jose Sharks are inviting the four major mayoral candidates to SAP Center on April 27 to discuss the future of SAP Center in the face of planned development around the arena and Diridon Station by Google, BART and others. The venue hosts more than 150 events every year, from Sharks games and big-name concerts to huge sporting events like the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and even was a COVID-19 testing site.
San Jose Downtown Association Executive Director Scott Knies will moderate the 7 p.m. forum, featuring San Jose City Council members Dev Davis, Matt Mahan and Raul Peralez and Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez. Too bad they’re not suiting up in pads and skates; that would be the most entertaining mayoral forum of the season. Tickets are free (as is parking at SAP Center) and you can reserve a spot at www.futureofsapcenter.com.