A vertical culture trip disguised as a business hotel in downtown Tokyo. Popupla's Erica Firpo reports.
A glittery corner tower that seamlessly fits with the tranquil harmony of Marunouchi, Tokyo's quiet downtown neighborhood has fabulous shopping boulevards and a not-so-secret ramen enclave near the Imperial Palace. Though high-rise often screams business, the Palace Hotel Tokyo is a vertical culture trip.
The entire hotel got a 2012 reboot, including complete demolition of the original hotel. What you'll find is a 23-story celebration of contemporary Japanese design, art, and architecture, with spacious rooms that laugh at the old stereotypical design. These days, Palace Hotel is known for sure-shot views of the Tokyo cityscape from almost every room, impeccable style and service, and an excellent location in Marunouchi — from here, everything is easy.
In the Room
Each of the 290 rooms and suites is like a beautiful painting — a tranquil composition of earth tones, modern furniture, soft woods, warm fabrics, and large, cozy beds with crispy white linen sheets and duvets. Designed on an open plan, the room is inspired by traditional Japanese homes, with modern versions of fusama or shoji sliding doors to divide the room from the exposed bathroom and large tub, shower, and ultramodern toilet. There was nothing I didn't love about my room, and I can easily say my favorite amenity was the larger-than-life bar, a mid-century design armoire in avocado green that opened several compartments — hiding great snacks, liquors, contemporary stemware, and a traditional, hand-made tea set. Hands-down better than every other mini-bar I have ever experienced.
Room with a View
Most of the the Palace Hotel rooms have balconies and a sweeping view of the Tokyo cityscape — from the Skytree to the Imperial Gardens — making them the perfect set-up for that time-lapse photo shot. I stayed on the 15th and 22nd floors, and woke up (and fell asleep) to front row views of all of Tokyo. Rooms start from the seventh floor; request a city-facing room (it will be perfect).
What's on Site
A better question would be what's not on site? From lobby to penthouse, the Palace Hotel is a gallery of contemporary Japanese art and design. More than 1000 works of art from large scale paintings and sculptures to delicate luminaries and modern furniture decorate every space, public and private. To be honest, if you were not in Tokyo, there'd be no need to leave the hotel. Its fifth and sixth floors have pretty much everything you need: 1200-square-meter Evian Spa (first of its kind) and fitness center, all with floor-to-ceiling windows. And then, a whopping ten restaurants and bars from traditional sushi, shabu shabu, tempura, and teppanyaki to a fabulous French restaurant, an old-school lounge bar, and a hidden Chinese restaurant. This is a culinary full house. For those looking to seal the deal, on floor three are a chapel and a traditional shrine (and access to designer kimono stylist Jotaro Saito) for wedding ceremonies.
Personally, I was obsessed with breakfast in the Garden Room of the Grand Kitchen, a luminous greenhouse dining area with two incredible breakfast buffets — traditional Japanese and western. We had an intimate (and show-stopping) dinner at Go, the teppanyaki grill with a personal chef. And then we enjoyed a few nightcaps by checking out the Palace's three bars — Privé, a sexy Blade Runner-esque private lounge in silver and black; the Palace Lounge, a serene meeting space with a neutral tone and vibe (afternoon tea is served by Kimono-clad staff!). The ground floor's Royal Bar, a leather and wood-panelled spot, had just the right touch of yesteryear.
This Place Is Perfect For
A full immersion in Tokyo chic.
But Not So Perfect For
Someone looking for a cheap escape.
Marunouchi is serene and posh thanks to its front row seat in front of the Imperial Palace, an expansive, verdant park surrounded by moat and stone walls, and primary residence of the Emperor of Japan. The palace grounds are free to visit on Saturdays, Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, with tours by reservation.
What to Do Nearby
Ginza Shoji (B1-A Ichigo Ginza 612 Building, Ginza; +81-3-6228-5632) is a brand-spanking new, nine-seat, traditional Japanese restaurant that's completely off the radar. Rokukakutei makes a meal of deep-fried vegetables, meat, fish on skewers known as kushiage, a.k.a. the lesser-known cousin of tempura. Sawada (5-9-19 Ginza, MC Building 3F; +81-3-3571-471), a six-seat bar, is David Chang's favorite sushi spot in the world. Tokyo Ramen Street is a road dedicated to Ramen at the Yaesu Underground Exit of Tokyo Station. Keep your eyes out for Rokurinsha (1-9-1 Marunochi, Chiyoda; +81-3-3286-0166) and the nearby Kagari Echka Ginza (near the Marunouchi entrance of Ginza station). Mix a little food and shopping in uber department stores Matsuya and Mitsukoshi (the oldest department stores in Japan). Make sure to check out the food halls, especially Maisen (a tonkatsu resto/stand) in Mitsukoshi.
Stroll along Nakadori Avenue (1-3 Marunouchi, 1 Yuraku-cho, Chiyoda-ku), one-and-a-half kilometers of flagstone, luxury shops, and cafes. Catch the art events for the cherry blossom (sakura) festival here in late March. Pop in at Itoya, an incredible stationery shop that is newly renovated. Tokyu Hands (Marronnier Gate Building 5-9F, 2-2-14 Ginza; +81-3-3538-0109) is like a Japanese target, but better! Lastly, stop by Kio, a Popupla recommendation with excellent vintage finds.
King-bed Deluxe Rooms start at $520 per night. Click here for reservations.