May 25, 2021
‘DAYDREAM’ BY TERUMASA HINO, A HIT ALBUM in Japan in 1980 produced by Rare Groove Osaka, “sounds like Japanese fusion,” according to the music curators at the new Ace Hotel Kyoto. Or maybe I should say according to my own personal music curator, because I find this record and its pithy description in my room, one of the hotel’s 213, which each contain a record player and a uniquely curated collection of LPs to soundtrack your stay.
The suggestion accompanying ‘Daydream’ to “Listen: When you’re feeling groovy B-3” is totally apiece with the hip-luxury, eclectic-chic personality for which the Ace brand is known. Part new build and part renovation of a brick telephone-company building from the 1920s, Ace Hotels’ first outpost in Asia celebrates both the new and the historic, with tech touches sitting alongside nouveau-traditional crafts, and a widely defined embrace of community — be it in terms of co-working nomads or corporate social responsibility. Every detail in the hotel tells a story. Little wonder it made the T+L It List 2021.
Los Angeles-based Commune Design and Japanese starchitect Kengo Kuma collaborated on the property, which opened in Kyoto last June. Kuma drew inspiration from traditional Japanese houses for the grid of copped-colored louvers on the new building’s exterior, as well as the colossal wooden beams that traverse the lobby’s ceiling and entrance. The local roots are apparent but the vibe feels more eclectic and progressive than traditional.
Numerous artists and craftsmen from both Japan and the United States were tapped for the project and their handiwork is most apparent in the lobby space. The copper lobby desk where I check in was crafted by Nousaku, a company that has been building Buddhist altars for more than a century. Near the check-in, the most notable piece in the space is a giant tapestry of layered hand stitched textiles that cascade down a washi-papered wall. The work was created by Shobu Gakuen, a community for people with disabilities.
The elevator-bank tiles were fired in the ancient kilns of Shigaraki with their stunning green hue being created in the firing process itself. The banner that marks the entry to Stumptown Coffee Roasters is the work of 99-year-old Samiro Yunoki, a master of katazome (stencil-dyeing).
The Portland coffee brand’s first foray overseas is my first stop for some quality espresso, before pulling up a chair at the huge communal table in the hotel’s lobby, already dotted with digital nomads engrossed in their laptops.
A little later I head up to my Historic Twin room, in the renovated telephone building. It’s one of 26 in the heritage part of the property. The room is spacious with distinct living and sleeping areas. The bathroom is wrapped in warm wood paneling which gives a sauna-vibe, with slate tile floors and tiling in the rain shower and deep tub space. There’s a Noguchi Akari light sculpture offering its glow to the seating area, a guitar placed near one of the two double beds giving guests an invitation to strum, and that record player by the desk with a QR code to scan for a lesson on how to use it. The small selection of records also includes one by Falco, the Australian new wave singer from the 80s. Clearly, music is a core tenet of the property.
Two of the hotel’s three restaurants are open, with the hotel’s signature restaurant set to open at a later (still to be determined) date. I take a stroll through Piopiko, a taqueria and cocktail bar, by chef Wes Avila of Los Angeles institution Guerilla Tacos. Like the hotel’s other dining establishments, it is also the first restaurant overseas for the popular chef.
Copper makes a bold statement here as the backdrop to the main bar, while netted basket lamps by Kanaami Tsuji — made in a tradition that goes back 10 centuries in Kyoto — provide the lighting. A DJ booth by Nousaku is the focus of the mezzanine level. The menu is, understandably, taco heavy, with some creative flair beyond your expected toppings, like the cauliflower taco with olives, umeboshi (Japanese pickled plum), pine nuts, burnt tomato, and chives. Cocktails also have flair with concoctions that blend Japanese and Mexican ingredients, and some like the No Tirar Rojo, a mix of red wine, raspberry, cacao, spices and agave, are “upcycled” (made with reusable ingredients to eliminate food waste).
Later that evening I head to the Italian restaurant, Mr. Maurice, by Chef Marc Vetri from Philadelphia. It has one of the most prime positions in the building with a seating area that wraps around and finishes with a tiered outdoor space overlooking an expansive and lush courtyard of ShinPuhKan, the shopping and dining destination of which Ace Hotel Kyoto is part. The Italian here is the real deal. They have a wood-fired oven that churns out tasty pies and a huge array of house-made pasta, like the delicious beet plin with tarragon.
The hotel’s location, just a short stroll from the Kyoto Imperial Palace and right above Karasuma Oike station (just three stops from Kyoto station), puts it in a prime position for mainstream sightseeing, but when I meander the narrower streets around the hotel and away from the main arteries, that’s where I feel that I experience the true charm of the city.
acehotel.com/kyoto; doubles from ¥40,000.