The story of Nobu began almost three decades ago, when Robert DeNiro first sampled master sushi chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s ethereal cuisine in Los Angeles. Four years later, after much cajoling, Nobu opened in über-hip Tribeca and essentially wrote the blueprint for what a hot spot restaurant should be.
Twenty-five years later, the empire includes not only 40 restaurants on six continents, but luxury hotels as well, with 20 set to open by the end of 2020. Two of the most exciting new additions are both in North America, although in quite disparate locations.
Nobu Hotel Los Cabos opened this past March, with 200 guest rooms, swanky infinity pools, and a sumptuous spa, all on the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula. The architecture can be described as Japanese by way of Mexico. To wit: Guests enter through a Zen-like Japanese-inspired courtyard before being treated to a magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean, framed by a stone portal. “The design, for me, it's…Japanese, [but] you have to adjust it to each country or locale,” DeNiro says of the hotel group’s design inspiration. At Los Cabos, since the sea is the ultimate draw, the layout of the buildings is centered on it (and, of course, the spectacular Pacific sunsets). Inside, the vibe is Japanese minimalism, with teak soaking tubs and shoji screen–inspired closet doors within the guest rooms. Pops of color, geometric artwork, and locally sourced Mexican materials, however, imbue the hotel with indigenous touches.
Nobu Hotel Palo Alto, designed by Los Angeles-based Montalba Architects, may be on the other end of the spectrum when it comes to that laid-back, beachy vibe, but it shares design DNA with its sister property. The hotel, which is currently set to open in 2020 after completing a multimillion-dollar renovation and rebranding, will be a boutique property with 73 rooms and a double-story signature restaurant. The exterior grounds will belie their urban surroundings with an outdoor plant and sculptural landscape; John Wigmore light fixtures made with Japanese paper will be found throughout the hotel. As the property is located squarely in Silicon Valley, however, guests can expect top-of-the-line techy touches, like 82-inch television screens and in-room Alexa devices. The highest-end rooms, dubbed Ryokans, will also have freestanding wood soaking tubs and slatted teak wall paneling.
DeNiro may deny being the ultimate arbiter of interior décor choices for the hotels (“I'm not a student of architecture. I have just my own sense of what's aesthetically pleasing”), but his partners tend to disagree. “Bob is being very humble by saying he's not much involved in the design,” partner Meir Teper says. “He's involved because we've known each other for many years. So, when we design something, usually he approves it because we already know what we all like, especially Bob and what he doesn't like.”
One of the phrases the partners like to use to describe the hotels’ design is unpretentious luxury. “I tend to like things that are not overdone,” DeNiro says. “…Things that are simple but elegant, functional, practical, and not gaudy. When you look at something, when you design a room, it has to be rooted in some kind of reality, if you will.” This philosophy is on display in both new properties, from the understated, chic minibar in the rooms at Palo Alto, to the lush but streamlined pools at Los Cabos.
And of course, equally important to the hotel experience is the food. “I was in a hotel in the Maldives, a very nice hotel,” DeNiro recalls. “I won't say which one, [but] it was really kind of terrific and they had a Japanese restaurant and that was great too; it was one of our ex-chefs. But it wasn't Nobu and that's a very, very important part of all this.” While many guests may opt to stay at a Nobu property in Mexico or California solely based on the cuisine, Chef Matsuhisa is also committed to folding in local ingredients, techniques, and workers. “My philosophy is using local product as much as possible,” Matsuhisa says. “We opened Los Cabos in Mexico; a lot of Mexican people started to work with us. We have to help the community too.”
After 25 years in business together, the partners readily admit that they have had disagreements. But with major hotel expansion on the horizon, their long history is what makes them able to make decisions together. “We run the business as a family,” Teper says. “It's not so easy to be partners for 25 years, but we are close to each other. We only want to do what is right, in the right location, with the right people.”
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest