The Buchanan boasts clean, comfortable, high-tech rooms that are more spacious than those at some San Francisco hotels that charge twice as much. You don't get much in the way of amenities or service, but who cares? This place is about quirky design and quality rooms. It's an excellent value.
In Japanese, tomo means "friend," and the hotel's amiable staff, small size (125 rooms), and cheery pop art-themed decor bear that out. The Buchanan is operated by Joie de Vivre, a San-Francisco-based collection of quality midpriced boutique hotels in California. (Sister properties include the equally quirky Good Hotel, Laurel Inn, and Japantown neighbor Hotel Kabuki.)
The Buchanan's most obvious association, of course, is with Japan. Foremost is its location in Japantown (more on that in Location below). Inside, the Buchanan festoons itself in Japanese pop culture. A giant Maneki Neko, or "Beckoning Cat" (or "Welcoming Cat," or "Lucky Cat," or...), waves from the side of the lobby. Next to him (her?), Japanese TV shows and anime films play on flat-screen TVs. And the rooms -- oh, these rooms -- were designed by acclaimed Japanese pop artist Heisuke Kitazawa, better known as "PCP." There are four different wall schemes, each of which tells a different fanciful tale, and they're arranged slightly differently in each room. The result is an impressive display of individuality.
Even if you're not Japanese -- or an anime geek -- you'll find a lot to like about the Buchanan. Beyond their whimsicality, the rooms are clean and still feel fresh after a 2007 renovation. At 325 square feet, they're bigger than those at many far more expensive hotels downtown (the Westin St. Francis' tiny rooms come to mind). The restaurant, Mum's, serves up good enough Japanese fare to draw locals as well as Buchanan guests. (We highly recommend the signature dish, shabu-shabu, which means "swish-swish" in Japanese, and refers to the sound of the meat cooking in boiling water. It's as fun as it is tasty.)
If amenities are a priority, of course, you'll need to look elsewhere. The Buchanan has a small, sparsely equipped fitness center (aptly named the "Little Gym"), two computers in the lobby, and not much else. But what do you expect from a 125-room midpriced boutique? Service-wise, you basically have the two-person crew at the front desk. After check-in, we found a paint brush on the floor next to the shower. That doesn't happen at the Ritz. On the other hand, when we discovered the iPod dock was broken and called down for a replacement, someone was at the door with a new one in 10 minutes. And the water pressure in the shower? Better than at the Ritz. Just sayin'.
The Buchanan sits in the heart of Japantown, a small, sleepy neighborhood -- sub-neighborhood, really -- about a half-mile west of Nob Hill and its collection of upscale hotels. If you're not obsessed with sushi or karaoke, you won't find much to do in Japantown, but it's a relatively central location, geographically speaking: You're actually closer to the major sites in the western and northern reaches of the city (e.g., the Golden Gate Bridge) than you'd be if you stayed downtown.
Far from the Presidio, the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, Twin Peaks, and Haight-Ashbury
If you're not into Japanese food, head two blocks west to Fillmore Street, where you'll find dozens of bars, restaurants, and cafes.
The east-west cable-car line runs along California Street, two blocks north.