The historic former President Hotel has transformed into an upscale homage to all things Stanford.

A Palo Alto landmark has been restored to its prior use as a hotel. This time, in its reincarnation as Graduate Palo Alto, the former President Hotel aims to be an upscale homage to all things Stanford, from its extensive cocktail menu at two on-site bars to the portraits of Stanford celebrities displayed in the guest rooms.

First built in 1929 by Palo Alto architect Birge Clark, the University Avenue hotel is an elaborate six-story Spanish colonial building in downtown Palo Alto. In the 1950s it was converted into housing, and for decades it offered shelter to roughly 75 lower-income residents. 

That changed in 2018, when it was acquired by AJ Capital Partners’ Graduate Hotel division, and eventually the owners received permission to convert the building back into a hotel and kicked out the residents. After that, work began to refurbish the hotel, which involved gutting most of the interior, says Christine McDermott, area general manager for Graduate Hotels.

A gallery wall in the lobby of Graduate Palo Alto, the former President Hotel in downtown Palo Alto. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

The new hotel has retained the old Spanish colonial style interior, and some of the lobby’s historic green tiles from the original 1929 construction have been retained, while other areas are decorated with brightly colored tiles with intricate patterns. 

The hotel also commissioned a tapestry to hang on the wall behind the service counter because a tapestry had hung there when it was previously a hotel,  McDermott says. 

The space is filled with nods to Stanford. Rooms come appointed with pillows emblazoned with the term “C-House” in an homage to the Stanford Football program, and all the wall art highlights connections to both the university and its surroundings. Rooms have portraits and art inspired by Stanford attendees Sigourney Weaver, John Steinbeck and John McEnroe on the walls, while the wallpaper is inspired by the California redwoods. Even the do not disturb doorknob hangers are designed with college in mind: they’re shaped like pennants.

Customers inside Lou & Herbert’s, one of two eateries inside Graduate Palo Alto. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

A new cafe and a rooftop bar

Lou & Herbert’s, located on the ground floor, is named after former president and Stanford alum Herbert Hoover and his wife, Lou (who was the first Stanford woman to graduate with a geology degree). The restaurant offers food all day, from breakfast to cocktail hour snacks. The breakfast menu includes items like avocado toast on levain from Manresa Bread, a breakfast burrito, egg sandwich, pancakes and chia pudding, plus coffee from San Francisco-based coffee brand Saint Frank. The lunch and dinner menu ranges from tuna tartare and a bread and “butter” dish made with whipped bone marrow butter to warm roasted cauliflower and a roast beef sandwich. 

The cocktails were developed by LA-based mixologist Bad Birdy and are “spirit-forward” at the downstairs bar, with drink names designed to invoke Herbert Hoover’s legacy. These include “Herb & Lou’s First Date,” featuring raspberry liqueur, sparkling wine, chocolate bitters and lemon oil; “Birge’s Blueprint” — named for Birge Clark, the Palo Alto architect behind the hotel — made with gin, sage cordial, saline and palo santo smoke; and “The 1929,” made with banana-infused bourbon, aged rum, banana oleo, angostura and cacao bitters. The menu also includes a selection of wine and beer, as well as mocktails under the menu heading “School Nights.”

The President’s Terrace features an extensive cocktail menu and views of the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Stanford campus. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Take the hotel’s vintage Otis elevator, with a refurbished leather interior, or a new elevator to the top of the hotel and you’ll find yourself at the President’s Terrace, Palo Alto’s only rooftop bar.

The cozy space offers a Spanish-influenced design with terracotta flooring, a fireplace and lounge seating. From there, visitors can see the Dish, Stanford quad and Memorial Church and the Santa Cruz Mountains. The food menu is largely the same as the lunch and dinner menu downstairs, with additions like the Presidential Crudité with vegetables and smoky eggplant and cucumber raita dips and chicken liver mousse with fruit mostarda and bread chips. Both eateries offer coconut rice pudding and It’s-It ice cream sandwiches for dessert, plus the Really Good Cookie at Lou & Herbert’s and berries and cream at the President’s Terrace upstairs. 

The drinks at the President’s Terrace are more fruit-inspired and include beverages like the “West of Eden,” made with vodka, gin, watermelon juice, lime, cucumber, and monk fruit fennel syrup; “The Peninsula” featuring mezcal, lime, pink guava and gardenia essence; and “Weekend at Burning Man,” with tequila, Ancho Reyes Verde, lemon, pineapple, elote syrup and ancho chile bitters. 

Wine, beer and additional mocktails are offered here, such as the “Leland’s Gold Rush” made with pineapple, lemon and elote, and “Full Moon on the Quad” with coconut demerara, lime and soda.  

Moving forward, the hotel hopes to offer a range of events open to the community at the rooftop space, from classes on topics like candlemaking or oysters, or experiences like yoga or sound baths. 

“We’re excited to become part of the community,” McDermott says. 

Lou & Herbert’s (ground floor, open 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, kitchen closes at 10 p.m.) and President’s Terrace (rooftop, current hours noon to 7 p.m. weekdays and 2-7 p.m. weekends), 488 University Ave., Palo Alto; 650-843-9755, Instagram: @louandherberts and @presidentsterrace. Reservations are available at

Kate Bradshaw

Kate Bradshaw

Kate Bradshaw reports food news and feature stories all over the Peninsula, from south of San Francisco to north of San José. Since she began working with Embarcadero Media in 2015, she's reported on everything from Menlo Park's City Hall politics to Mountain View's education system. She has won awards from the California News Publishers Association for her coverage of local government, elections and land use reporting.

You May Also Like

From ube macarons to tira•mac•su: Meet the Santa Clara-based baker infusing new flavors into the traditional French macaron

We tried 10 snacks from Ponyo, Millbrae’s new Asian snack market. Here’s what we loved — and didn’t.

How to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on the Peninsula

How three chefs are looking to turn a restaurant nestled in the redwoods atop Skyline into the Peninsula’s next dining destination