Onsen — San Francisco, USA

Onsen — San Francisco, USA

A defunct car repair shop in San Francisco’s gritty Tenderloin neighbourhood is reborn as a Japanese-inspired bathhouse and restaurant. Husband-and-wife team Sunny Simmons and Caroline Smith have honoured the single-story building’s early 20th century bones by preserving its soaring ceilings and red bricks, while adding sloped skylights and metal beams.

Simmons, a craft builder, created custom shelving from redwood, rescued from construction sites, and Smith, an artist, hand-dyed indigo fabric panels and added sashiko stitching to hang on doorways. The result is zen reinterpreted in contemporary California style, with an eight-person hot pool, a three-tiered wood sauna, and a steam room decked out in white and black subway tiles. The wet area and the treatment rooms for massage and acupuncture are encased in original exposed bricks brimming with green plants.

‘I dreamed of recreating the ryokan experience from our travels in Japan,’ says Simmons. ‘But right here in the middle of the city.’ Even if you’re not planning on poaching and sweating, you should still drop by to admire the dining space while tucking into Onsen’s Japan-meets-California menu featuring seasonal vegetable skewers, grilled fish, and al dente rice porridge. 

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