Welcome to the Hotel Mark Twain

By David Helton

Mark Twain once said that, “The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.” I suspect he was talking about Kevin Thomas and Mark Dean (who is also known as the notorious Deena Jones Cartier) – the bear and the drag queen that run the eclectic Hotel Mark Twain located in Union Square.  We caught up with Kevin and Mark for the scoop on the newly-remodeled hotel and life in Union Square. 

So what’s kicking off this renovation? New ownership? (Kevin) No… It’s the same owner. He’s owned it for nearly 20 years. Although the hotel has always been kept up, Union Square is a very competitive neighborhood. We had to do something to make people come back. I mean, my personality can only sell so many rooms. <laughs> For the marketplace and in a time when everyone is on social media, we had to do something that would resonate with visitors. We did a little facelift on the hotel about five years ago, but that’s nothing compared to what we’ve done now.

Do you find that with the Internet, people are smarter and more savvy when it comes to selecting a hotel? (Kevin) Oh, yes. Back in the day, I think I’ve been to about 86 AAA offices in my life. We all used to go there to ask, ‘Is there a hotel in San Francisco with parking?’ and they would hook you up. Now we just look online.

How has the response been to having a drag queen wandering about the hotel? (Kevin) It’s been pretty positive. But he’s not in drag on a regular day at work – just for special occasions like when we hosted Imperial Court System founder Jose Julio Sarria’s funeral last year as Mark is very involved (a lifetime family title holder) with the founding mother court of San Francisco.

I think it would be fun to have a hotel run by drag queens. (Mark) Yes! That would be fun. You’d have to pay more. All those eyelashes and wigs. And what a bitchy hotel? Can you imagine? It would be a riot to have drag queens checking people in. I think it would be a novelty. We should look into that!

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How long have you been working here? (Kevin) Six years. But not consecutively. I was here for a few years and took some time off and now I’m back. Wait, maybe seven years. <laughs>

Do you love working here? (Kevin) I do! I mean, there are a lot of people who I call ‘hotel hoppers’ and these are people who think they are going to get something better at another property. But honestly, a lot of this work is all the same. It’s better to be around fun people that you both love and respect. I like being ‘Kevin from the Mark Twain’ instead of ‘Kevin… where are you working now?’ <laughs> I also like being able to connect the hotel with other projects I am working on as the GLBT arts blogger.  (Mark) Having worked for both big corporate hotels and smaller boutique hotels throughout the west, the boutique hotels and the community of San Francisco have captured my heart. I could not imagine working any other place. I grew up in the hospitality business and it runs in my veins. Making people feel welcome to our hotel and telling them about our wonderful city is second nature. I am lucky to have such supportive ownership and an amazing group of colleagues to work with. Each of us is as unique and individual as our boutique hotel.

Do you like working in a smaller boutique hotel like the Mark Twain? (Kevin) There are a lot of advantages to being in a smaller hotel including freedom to be more creative instead of having to answer to the corporate office like we would at a big chain. (Mark) Here at the Mark Twain, we can just decide together that we want to do something special – and we do it. We are engaged with our community and want to be known for thinking “outside the box.”

I don’t think a hotel like the Fairmont would be cool with a drag queen working the front desk. Which is a shame. I think it’s fun, cool and interesting. (Mark) And honestly, people come to San Francisco because they want something fun, cool and interesting.

Is Fish & Farm your restaurant? (Mark) No, it’s leased out and is adjacent to our hotel lobby. We’re in partnership with them and they have a stellar reputation.

They do your room service? (Mark) Yes. They do just dinner. They don’t serve breakfast or lunch, but we are right in the heart of Union Square so there are a lot of other options for the guests including the Taylor Street Coffee Shop right next door.

The parking is ‘every man for himself?’ <laughs> (Mark) We actually have competitive valet parking. Ours is not bad. It’s $38 a day. (Kevin) Of course, people from Iowa think, ‘$38?! For parking?! We can get a hotel room for that much in Iowa.” Well, welcome to San Francisco. But really, they don’t need to get a car here anyway as the city is really not that large and the hotel is centrally located.

What’s the vibe here at the Mark Twain? (Kevin) The modern meets the past. Billie Holiday was arrested here in 1949. We gave her a suite, you know. She was picked up for opium, but she was acquitted.

Any other famous people stay here? (Kevin) RuPaul.

No, I said, ‘famous.’ <laughs> (Kevin) Linda Blair, Lady Bunny, Alec Mapa, Lisa Loeb, Jason Dolley and Jake Shears (from Scissor Sisters). We get a lot of the “RuPaul’s Drag Race” contestants and some guests from Juanita More, Peaches Christ and Heklina – all San Francisco drag queen legends. (Mark) Guests from the Frameline Film Festival as well as they are a partner and we sponsor them so a lot of their actors and directors stay here. We really enjoy our partnership with them. (Kevin) And I get to interview and write about their movies as a blogger and see many of the movies in advance. I have a blog on examiner.com.

Do you guys cater to the gay clientele here? (Kevin) We do but not exclusively. Every hotel in San Francisco has a few pieces of the pie. There’s corporate, there are travel agents, there’s leisure, there’s international – and in San Francisco, there’s a gay piece of pie as well. Sounds delicious, right? <laughs>

You guys are involved with the bear community. (Kevin) Hello, look at me! <laughs>. I went after that market because I know the community. Those are my people. I am a bear so I can sell to other people who look like me. I enjoy the bear events and I really think those guys are a lot of fun to spend time with anyway. Why not tell them about this great hotel?! (Mark) But we help out all sorts of charitable organizations, not just gay ones. We’re not just after the gay money – we want to give back to the community as well. It’s wonderful visibility for us and we truly embrace the fact we are an intricate part of this magnificent city. And we don’t just cater to the gay crowd once a year during Pride. We cater to them 365 days a year. We are involved in the community every single day of the year.

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1 Comment on Welcome to the Hotel Mark Twain

  1. zack thompson // July 11, 2015 at 6:09 am // Reply

    I love this. I had no idea that Billie Holiday stayed there and furthermore was arrested.

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