Hey, haven’t we seen this guy in the beefeater suit somewhere before? That’s right … must have been at the royal wedding. Wait. No, he’s stationed in San Francisco at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. His name is Tom Sweeney and, as the hotel’s doorman for 35 years, he guards your right to a fun, relaxing stay.
Tom has become a city icon and has met everyone from presidents to sports heroes to film stars. Can you believe he even did a cameo as a doorman on the soap opera Young and the Restless? His presence and infectious energy is part of the reason he just might be the only doorman to have his own fan website (www.tomthedoorman.com).
Tom dished to us about what an amazing ride it’s been.
Life is Suite: Thirty-five years. Wow. Did you ever imagine?
Tom: (Laughs) I actually first took it for a summer job. I wasn’t planning on doing it for more than that because I had applied to the San Francisco Police and Fire academies. All of my high school buddies were doing that. But I ended up staying 35 summers, paid off my house, put two kids through college. It turned out this job was too good to leave.
LIS: You’ve probably gone through a lot of beefeater suits in 35 years.
Tom: 42 uniforms! I still have my original suit from 1976 at home. Would you believe they each weigh 40 pounds?
LIS: Really? That’s a workout.
Tom: Well, I run marathons. I even did the Bay To Breakers eight-mile run in my uniform. People went wild. It was so much fun. Also, I used to play football … was a middle linebacker. That helped me when I chased and tackled some robbers outside the hotel one time.
LIS: What happened?
Tom: Two guests were checking in and had their belongings stolen outside. I saw the robbers, ran after them, and tackled them. The guests got their items back.
LIS: All of this has turned you into a local celebrity.
Tom: I get my picture taken about 500 times a day. The cable car goes right in front of the hotel. I have a great time with tourists. I’m always happy to give advice and tell them where to go. I say I have many jobs: greeter, porter, guide, ringmaster, constable, concierge, valet, restaurant and movie critic … all in an eight-hour day.
LIS: The hotel sits right near Union Square. What kind of changes have you seen in the area over the years?
Tom: When I started there were around 11,000 hotel rooms in San Francisco. Now there are about 35,000. The convention business has taken off like wildfire. And get this: When I started, a one-way ride on a cable car cost 50 cents. Now it’s coming up on $6.
LIS: Who have you met doing your job during this time?
Tom: So many people. I shook hands with nearly every president since Ford. And hung out with Tony Blair when he was prime minister. Also met John Travolta, Sharon Stone, Robin Williams, Halle Berry, Michael Jordan, and Joe Montana. Then there are the great tourists from all around the world. Every day is a new audience. But I treat everybody the same, from the movie stars to the average person.
LIS: That’s great. Yours is the first face people see when they arrive at the hotel, after all.
Tom: It’s all about being positive. It’s been 35 years of magical moments … and I still love opening doors for people.
Meet the legendary Tom Sweeney at Sir Francis Drake Hotel (he’ll pose for a photo … promise). And get the full experience by ordering a “Sweeney Tini” at Bar Drake inside. 450 Powell St., San Francisco (415-392-7755 or sirfrancisdrake.com).