New Hotel Has 5 Stars In Its Eyes

Luxury hotel Se San Diego trips off the tongue but is easy on the eyes

Say what?

Most people’s first attempt to pronounce Se San Diego results in a "see?" rather than the phonetically correct "say."

"Se" is a Chinese word that stands for a plethora of things: color, look, quality, expression, sensuality and physical attraction. Se is also downtown’s newest ultra-luxury hotel. It opened quietly just before New Year's Eve.

Management team 5th Avenue Partners wants a five-star rating -- and the hotel was reportedly good enough for rocker Tommy Lee. Se San Diego had no trouble with the bad boy drummer, who stayed over after his band Motley Crue played Cox Arena on Feb. 2. (You may recall that that was the day police intervened after Lee’s erratic helicopter ride in Van Nuys, with a pilot who, reports, once shot an X-rated video mid-air in his cockpit after flying out of San Diego’s Montgomery Field).  

It’s highly likely lots of musical acts who play the adjacent House of Blues music venue will also overnight at Se San Diego. (There’s a secret entrance between the two.) The public, though, can swing open a 900-pound bronze pivot door on Fifth Avenue and be delivered into an artful display of visual stimuli and tactile experiences.

"Visitors just want to touch everything they can," Se San Diego's director of sales and marketing, Tohnia Miller said.

A multitiered silk chandelier dangles in the lobby, slightly reminiscent of Las Vegas' Bellagio entranceway. A "Living Wall" in the first-floor bar is covered by shelves of live seasonal plants. There are more than 135 different finishes throughout the 23-story, 184-room property. Check out the stingray skins sewn onto the front desk.

As guests ascend a floating staircase to the Se’s signature restaurant, they walk past artist Ken Gangbar’s "Finn Wave" wall installation and hundreds of ceramic "fins" seem to move, like swaying kelp. The restaurant itself is a comfortable and soft (couchlike seating around square tables) version of a steakhouse. But the name -- Suite and Tender -- has got to go. Save that moniker for an airport Radisson.

Se San Diego is still putting itself together. There is a floor of meeting space; another floor is dedicated to a Moroccan-themed spa. A posh pool bar will open in spring; a ginormous penthouse suite will be available for parties later in the year. The interiors and guest rooms are worth an upper-echelon designation. Just practice "se-ing" the name before calling for reservations. (A $229 introductory rate will be available through April.)

Ron Donoho, formerly executive editor of "San Diego Magazine," is a regular contributor to who covers local news, sports, culture and happy hours.

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