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What do a bear, a bee, a Barbie and a banana have in common?
Not much, save for the tongue-twisting alliteration that results from speaking the words aloud. But, as it turns out, these four b’s also manifest as art installations — either solid objects or printed images — that have been scattered throughout the grounds of Hotel Kabuki in San Francisco.
They are, it turns out, just a few pieces of the hotel’s larger, theoretical puzzle — and it was a puzzle that I was determined to solve.
Hotel Kabuki is located deep in the heart of the city’s Japantown neighborhood. A member of San Francisco-based Joie de Vivre Hotels (a portfolio of boutique properties that feature compelling backstories and unique guest experiences), the property recently emerged from a $32 million renovation that not only revamped guestrooms and public spaces, but also introduced some design-forward finishing touches.
For example, those art installations I mentioned? They join six others — a clock, a koi fish, an owl, a Japanese “kaiju” (monster), a horse and a map of San Francisco — on the property’s newly launched Haven Hunt, a scavenger game that, if completed, rewards winners with 10 percent off their bar tab.
But artful details are not limited to those found during the Haven Hunt. In fact, I discovered surprises around every corner, from a large tower of Japanese stones — which, upon closer inspection, turned out to be a stack of thoughtfully placed circular gray pillows — to the lobby bar’s vintage record player, which draws crowds weekly to spin their own plastic during “Vinyl Nights.”
The 225-room hotel also pays homage to the surrounding area (it’s located in one of only three Japantowns in the U.S.; the other two are in Los Angeles and San Jose, Calif.). The building is a former Japanese Consulate and 1960s community center, and it sits within walking distance to trendy Fillmore Avenue. It’s also joined by an interior door to Japan Center Mall, a mecca of Japanese-style eateries and sweet shops. (I suggest trying one of the many ramen and sushi bars, or opt for matcha-flavored ice cream.)
The renovated lobby feels less like a waiting area and more like a place to perch up and idle the day away with one of the widely varied (yet perfectly curated) books that fill the shelves. I noticed titles ranging from “Why Not Me” by actress and comedian Mindy Kaling to a collection of poetry by counter-culture leader Allen Ginsberg, in addition to books on photography, San Francisco street art and Chicago architecture.
But when I needed a breath of fresh air, I could easily step outside the lobby into The Haven, a Japanese garden-style outdoor area that features ample seating, a firepit and a koi pond.
Guestrooms are spacious and simple in design. There are a range of accommodation categories, but all include flat-screen smart televisions with streaming apps; walk-in showers with rain showerheads; Jonathan Adler bath amenities; 24/7 access to the fitness center and complimentary Wi-Fi access. Adorning the walls are Japanese graphic design prints from the 1930s and 1940s; vintage Bay Area maps; and black-and-white photos depicting hippie culture.
Although the entire hotel is a visual feast, I was perhaps more impressed by a literal feast — one that I consumed at the recently opened Bar at Hotel Kabuki, which features seasonal menus featuring Japanese-infused cuisine and monthly cocktails.
While nibbling on orders of shishito peppers (served with avocado crema), spicy hamachi, karaage chicken and chicken katsu sliders, I admired the bartenders’ quick work in handcrafting each cocktail for a constantly rotating crowd of guests. (I ordered November’s specialty, “The Wild Fashioned,” which featured Longbranch Wild Turkey whiskey fat-washed in butter and mixed with Corbin Cash Sweet Potato Liqueur.)
And when my belly was full and my eyes began to droop, my 310-square-foot Deluxe Corner Balcony King lured me from the bar toward an early-yet-restful repose.
And as for finding that bear, bee, Barbie and banana? It’ll have to wait for my next stay.
The DetailsHotel Kabukiwww.jdvhotels.com