Little Italy Hotel Adds Ambiance

Porto Vista, once a Clarion, looks to completely shed its lowbrow image

 As participants at the Taste of Little Italy scampered from eating station to eating station on Wednesday night, they got to sample culinary offerings from the downtown area's established outlets as well as new kids on the block.

One of the latter was Porto Vista Hotel, which has been popular out of the gate but has even bigger plans on the drawing boards.

The 193-room hotel has a cool fourth-floor restaurant called The Glass Door, which offers daily happy hours and a peaceful view of San Diego Bay.

The hotel opened May 2008, the restaurant came a little later, and a new rooftop deck is just about to be open full-time in the evenings. The deck has cabanas and is lined by Italianate columns; bar areas and other finishing touches are near completion.

The exterior of the hotel is a major step up from its former life as a Clarion hotel facade. Until recently -- let's face it -- the rooms and walkways still had that Clarion ambiance. That deficit is about to be addressed, according to Porto Vista Hotel general manager Greg Keebler.

The hotel has enlisted the aid of designer Graham Downes, whose architectural work is on display locally at Tower 23 and the Pearl hotels.

Downes is working on giving Porto Vista a more upscale "1960s Italian" look. Watch for an artful change from street level, and get ready for wall-size murals in all the guest rooms.

"It'll be more mid-scale boutique -- not high-end like The Ivy, but an improvement to what it is now,” Keebler said.

Ron Donoho is a regular contributor to His Web site ( is dedicated to news, sports, culture, happy hours and all things downtown.

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