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Immersive experiences in themed hotels

Courtesy Hotel Tomo

Hotel Tomo

San Francisco
Hotel Tomo, in San Francisco’s Japantown neighborhood, practically drips with the fun quirkiness that is Japanese pop culture (J-pop): The lobby is lit with Crayola-colored neon lights, J-pop art prints hang on the walls, and each guest room features an anime mural.

The hotel was built in 1974 and operated as the Best Western Miyako Inn until boutique hotelier Joie de Vivre bought the property in 2006, renovated the building and reopened it as Hotel Tomo in 2007.

Hotel Tomo recently launched a renovation that added five new guest rooms, bringing its total to 130, and refreshed the other 125 rooms with new paint, updated bathrooms, refinished furniture, and fresh bedding and drapes, as well as new Keurig coffeemakers, general manager John Henry said.

Each room is furnished with sleek, streamlined pine pieces indicative of Japanese simplicity but is decorated with colorful fabrics, plush bedding and touches of J-pop — a Godzilla toy here, an anime figurine there. Every room also features an anime-style wall mural by artist Heisuke Kitazawa.

In the lobby, guests find televisions playing J-pop anime and a claw-grabbing arcade game that dispenses prizes such as iTunes gift cards, hotel sales manager Jennifer Good said. The hotel recently added new artwork in the lobby: pop-art prints of the Japanese symbols for life, love, eternity, harmony and friend.

Although Hotel Tomo attracts those who are passionate about Japanese pop culture, it also draws people who want to experience San Francisco in a different way.

“We definitely have passionate people who are into [J-pop] who come to the hotel, but we also get people who don’t want to be down in Union Square or Fisherman’s Wharf; they want to experience a neighborhood in San Francisco,” Henry said.

Because of its location in Japantown, Hotel Tomo’s doorstep is just steps from Japanese gift shops, bookstores and restaurants, and the hotel is also close to several independent music venues on Fillmore Street, Good said.

The Liberty Hotel
Be careful when you visit the Liberty Hotel in Boston; you could well end up behind bars in the clink. The Clink, one of the hotel’s restaurants, still has remnants of the building’s original jail cells and gives a whole new meaning to “hotel bars.”

Cambridge-based developer Carpenter and Co. partnered with LaSalle Hotel Properties of Bethesda, Maryland, to convert the historic, granite-faced Charles Street Jail into a hotel.

The 298-room Liberty Hotel opened in September 2007, and developers worked to preserve much of the original 1851 building’s character and history, including the 90-foot-tall central atrium that now serves as the lobby, which is “especially stunning,” said Nicole Gagnon, public relations and marketing manager for the hotel. The lobby rotunda is flooded with light from massive, intricate windows and is wrapped with catwalks that still have their original wrought-iron handrails. The jail’s former exercise yard is now a courtyard for guests.

In addition to Clink., visitors can dine at the hotel’s other restaurant, Scampo, which means “escape” in Italian, or enjoy a cocktail at Alibi, a bar located in the jail’s former “drunk tank” area. Guests can also tour the hotel’s history gallery that features historic photos and documents as well as a 16-minute video about the Charles Street Jail and its conversion into the hotel.

Most of the hotel’s rooms are located in the newly constructed guest room tower that is attached to the original building. In place of “Do Not Disturb” signs, guests find a “Solitary” sign with an attached jailer’s key to hang on their doors, Gagnon said.