Culture & Criticism Since 2003
The Kabuki is one of Joie de Vivre Hospitality’s most intriguing hotels, located a few blocks west of mid-town San Francisco in the middle of the historic “Japantown” district.
The Kabuki was once called the Hotel Miyako, a place frequented by many high-profile musicians and actors, noted for its splendid views and mellow ambiance – this delicate blending of the Eastern and Western cultures.
Legend tells it that when John Lennon and Yoko Ono (of Beatles fame) came to San Francisco they stayed at the Miyako for days on end, drenching themselves in the essence of the Orient (while remaining in the grasp of America’s great city by the bay).
And even though the old Miyako has sustained a name change and a notable 10-month renovation (2007), it still retains its distinct charm – swathed in subtle nuance, the sweet undertones of its Japanese ancestors alive in every nook in every corner of the hotel.
“The goal of running a boutique hotel,” notes Kabuki Managing Director Jim Gerney, “is to get away from size and its lack of personality. Instead, the concept is about providing a direct human connection – something that people will remember far beyond their stay.”
Like the Domain and Galleria Park (previously reviewed), The Kabuki is part of Joie de Vivre Hospitality (translated, it means “the joy of life”), which serves as the largest boutique hotel chain in California. Joie de Vivre is the literal embodiment of the vision of founder Chip Conley – this chain of hotels known for comfort and practicality, noted for an undying commitment to the basic needs of the traveler.
However, The Kabuki is quite different from other Joie de Vivre properties in that it provides a tranquil retreat – more than a mere hotel, The Kabuki strives to join continents and cultures as travelers come to experience pieces of Japan in the middle of urban San Francisco.
From the rooms to the restaurants, the grounds of The Kabuki resonate with life and original beads of color, at once transfixing us. In the end, The Kabuki transcends words like ‘tourist’ and ‘hotel.’ Instead, this is a place that somehow straddles two very unique worlds with grace and a defined sense of purpose, uniting a multitude of random wanderers along the way.
The Kabuki features a sprawling collection of 218 rooms that will accommodate both business and recreational travelers with softness and flair. What sets The Kabuki apart (noted the moment you open any door) is the feel of the place. Simply, these rooms carry a distinct, tender and tranquil presence that serves to welcome all who ventures into their nest. It is easy to see why John and Yoko used to stay here for weeks at a time – there is an intangible ‘something’ to these rooms that renders them more home and less hotel. Stepping through the over-all character of the rooms, one will naturally focus on the bed: Huge king-sized New Serta beds outfitted with luxury-linens literally wrap themselves around the body – perfect for sleeping, they also provide enough support to lie comfortably while TV trolling or reading. If you want to really treat yourself, go one step up and request a Deluxe Corner Room. This choice boasts an almost apartment-size room with a kick-back chaise comfortable enough to nap on (flanked by table meant for in-house dining). The Deluxe Corner is a perfect pick for a multiple-night-stay, perfect for days when you want to spend quiet time in your room – the extra space allowing you to enjoy yourself and spread out without feeling so suffocated. Additionally, many rooms are stocked with deep-soaking Japanese tubs. This amenity truly shows how the Western and Eastern cultures differ in their approaches to rest and relaxation. In the West, we often rush through our showers, marking that first step in yet another whirlwind day. However, in Japan, a long soak in the tub often signals the end of the process and the natural time to relax. Accordingly, these tubs are truly decadent – bottomless and serene, with custom bath-beads reviving coarse and weary skin. Extras include dry saunas in all Executive Suites; ergonomic work chairs in all rooms that support business people on-the-go; wireless high-speed internet in all rooms (and in the public areas); refrigerators in all rooms, in addition to an Asian kettle for coffee and tea; 26-inch LCD flat screen television sets that offer cable with on-demand movies; in-room laptop safes; and comfortable bathrobes (standard in all rooms).
Still…one needs to far go beyond the idea of the rooms to get to the core of The Kabuki. Simply, it’s the collective grounds that make this the place of choice for lodging in mid-town San Francisco. Prospective patrons who want to know what The Kabuki is like should ask someone who’s stayed here what it’s like to eat breakfast while looking out over the Japanese garden and Koi Pond (which sit adjacent to the lobby and guest rooms). The garden truly provides an escape from the day-to-day grind of city life and the rigors of endless travel – allowing one the peace and serenity to reconnect with the quiet ghosts of the self. We also noted the surprisingly good O Lzakaya Restaurant, which provides on-site dining. The O Lzakaya is truly unique in terms of hotel food, sporting standard fare and cultural delicacies all prepared with fresh-from-the-market ingredients. In Japan, “izakaya houses” are basically bars that serve communal plates of food meant to be shared family style. In turn, O Lzakaya borrows this theme and then expands on its edges, serving an assortment of communal plates in an informal lounge-type atmosphere. If you stop there in the morning, you’ll find the breakfast menu crowned by the Japanese Bento (with very good broiled fish predicated on what’s swimming in season). The dinner menu has an eye-catching array of noodle and fish entrees that rival the many neighborhood venues in this city of magnificent restaurants. What makes the O Lzakaya a find is that it serves up exceptional food on the hotel grounds – an important attribute when you’ve just rolled into town after a six hour flight (truly important when you just can’t stand another cab ride or another take-out burger). Indoor parking, one-day laundry service, a full service business center (for those not carrying their own laptops) and a clean and practical fitness center round-out one of the most unique and unpretentious hotels in Caen’s old Baghdad by the bay.
LOCATION: This would be a key selling point if The Kabuki itself wasn’t so damn impressive. Located on Post Street, but a stone’s throw from the Geary Street corridor, the surrounding neighborhood offers up everything from bars, cafes, nightclubs, movie theaters and a grand assortment of eateries that tailor a bite for every taste. The Fillmore Street/Pacific Heights district is roughly ten minutes away by foot; once there, you can enjoy fine coffee, good food and music in an area of town that remains safe into the wee-hours of the morning. Basically, the Fillmore serves as The Kabuki’s backyard, and guests of the hotel can experience the best of San Francisco’s restaurants and clubs without having to hail a cab or drive a car. To repeat, if The Kabuki wasn’t such a jewel, location would lead every reviewer’s column, as this area really does have it all.
NEIGHBORHOOD HOT SPOTS: Must-sees include Yoshi’s (1330 Fillmore Street), a venerable Jazz club and Japanese restaurant at the south edge of the Fillmore, drawing an eclectic crowd with some of the best ‘bounce-and-sway in the city. The club is roomy with wonderful acoustics that allow you to immerse yourself in every thread and nuance of the music. Also notable are the Sundance Cinemas (1881 Post Street at Fillmore), bringing the essence of Robert Redford’s dream to the heart of Japantown. Here, we go far beyond the idea of spectator; instead, the complex allows one to dig deep into the history of the medium and the spirit of performance as we come to interact with the artist on his very plane.
EXTRAS: As noted, prominent extras include ample parking (in-door with direct hotel access).
PLUS: An in-room refrigerator; honor bar; fitness center; suites with brilliant dry saunas; and in-room Wi-Fi/high speed internet.
PRICE: Ranging from $159 to $299. Price based on availability, room-size and day of week.