The Imperial has been around a while, hasn't it? The hotel is marking its 125th year of uninterrupted business - it did so on Tuesday, to be precise - with the extensive renovation of all 361 rooms in its 31-storey Imperial Tower. The first incarnation of the hotel was replaced in 1923 with a masterpiece designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Incorporating designs from the Mayans and the Hopi Indians of the Americas, the building was detailed, bizarre, dramatic and ahead of its time. Unfortunately, the " oya" stone that Lloyd Wright insisted on using proved less durable than anticipated and the building had to be replaced again in 1970, although sections have been preserved (business continued during both renovations as the hotel has annexes that were put to use). The present hotel is a slightly monolithic structure, but it's what is on the inside that counts: close to 900 rooms, 17 restaurants and bars, state-of-the-art fitness centre, pool, sauna as well as banquet and business centre facilities.
But isn't it just another "nice hotel"? You're missing the point. There are plenty of "nice hotels" in Tokyo, but none of them have the blend of style, heritage and omotenashi - the Japanese term that translates as "to entertain guests wholeheartedly" - that oozes from the Imperial's every nook and cranny. It's the details that set the excellent apart from the rest. The single fresh rose in every elevator; the hand-written message in each guest's room; a dedicated smoking room; a stunning flower arrangement in the lobby (below) that reflects the golds, reds and russets of the season. It's a place fit for a king. Or an emperor.
So it's the sort of place the rich and famous choose to stay? More presidents, performers and princesses than you can point a camera at. Elizabeth Taylor, Charlie Chaplin, Bob Hope, Helen Keller, Queen Elizabeth and Babe Ruth have all been guests. The shoe shiner in the lobby has buffed the shoes of Lee Kuan Yew and the cowboy boots of John Wayne.
Babe Ruth? I hear he was fond of a drink. Allegedly so, and he would have approved of the Old Imperial Bar. It's all dark wood and leather, immaculately attired barmen and more reminders of Lloyd Wright, from the hexagon-backed chairs at the bar to the mural that was saved from the 1923 building. It is also the home of the Mount Fuji, the hotel's signature cocktail, which was first poured in 1923 and is a combination of gin, pineapple, lemon and egg white, served with a glacé cherry.
And if I don't fancy a cocktail? Beyond an otherwise unremarkable door are the three rooms of the Toko-an Teahouse (above), which have been presided over by the same master of the tea ceremony for 45 years. The tranquil simplicity of a traditional teahouse has been recreated, from tatami-mat floors to an ikebana flower arrangement, a calligraphy scroll in the tokonoma alcove and gravel-and-stone pathways. A room, seating up to 23 people, can be booked for a full ceremony that lasts as long as four hours. Those with knees that are unaccustomed to prolonged kneeling should go for the abbreviated version.
Are there plenty of dining options? Far too many to sample in a single visit, but if you only dine at one venue, make it Les Saisons (a dish pictured below). Presided over by chef Thierry Voisin for a decade, it is widely considered the finest French restaurant in Tokyo.
Did you sleep well? Bright, airy and with great views, the rooms on The Imperial floors are the best in the hotel and come with multilingual, kimono-clad guest attendants. The Frank Lloyd Wright suite, however, is stunning. More than 500 square metres of art-deco opulence that transports the guest back to the 1920s, it has Hopi-inspired carpets, stained-glass windows, terracotta tiling and bespoke furniture and fixtures.
Is the hotel in a nice part of town? You could say that. Just outside the front door is Hibiya Park, the first Western-style park in Tokyo. Beyond that are the moat and outer walls of the Imperial Palace, primary residence of the emperor and his family. The high-end boutiques, bars and restaurants of Ginza are a stone's throw away. Also within walking distance are the Yurakucho and Shimbashi districts, both chock-full of the izakaya establishments and shops that the locals patronise.
Location, heritage and lashings of omotenashi must come at a price, right? A standard room in The Tower starts at 45,360 yen (HK$2,900) a night and a large junior suite on The Imperial floors at 151,200 yen, but overnight in The Frank Lloyd Wright suite will set you back 756,000 yen (HK$48,500).