The Virgin Sunset

June 10, 2008

Often the coolest Japanese bars and restaurants are in the most obscure locations. Such is the case with the groovily-named Virgin Sunset, a loosely Hawaiian-themed joint down an obscure side-street in Yamato City, Kanagawa. You can find it by looking out for the flaming torches outside.

It’s one of those uniquely Japanese places that mixes up various international elements and puts them through the old Japanese filter. Here you can sit among fish tanks and palm trees, and eat Italian pizza and Jamaican jerk chicken, whilst watching surfing videos and listening to 70s disco and funk hits being spun by a DJ in the corner, and drinking pina coladas served by waitresses in pretty Hawaiian dresses. A charmingly mental mish-mash of madness. Also, for some ungodly reason, the door-handles in the toilet are shaped like penises, but I try not to think too much about that.
I once stumbled into Virgin Sunset on Halloween night, and the additional Mexican Wrestlers and Wonder Woman costumes were enough to make my head spin.

If all this character wasn’t great enough, Virgin Sunset has a half price beer and pizzas every day from five to seven, including weekends. Try finding a deal like that in Tokyo!

After taking advantage of the happy hour, I tend to head to a cheap and cheerful games center a few doors up from the Virgin Sunset, called “The Big Bang”, which has darts, pool, batting cages and go-kart racing. An ideal place to continue the shenanigans (although the staff are reluctant to let you try the go-kart racing while totally shit-faced.)

Virgin Sunset Restaurant and Bar
TEL: 046-264-3766


More Yokohama Bars

March 21, 2008

And now, for the benefit of anyone who might be planning a visit, is another list of various western-style bars in Yokohama city.

PLAYERS BAR

This quirky bar is decorated from floor to ceiling with retro record sleeves, has glass cases full old toys and vintage Americana, and shows 80s music videos on a big screen. As a tasteless nostalgia-addict, it’s just my scene!
The food is terrible and the drinks are overpriced but, mysteriously, there are always many more women than men in this place, which is a very attractive selling point.
Players Bar
TEl:045-323-6866

THE FULL MONTY

A friendly British pub, which was recently relocated from an obscure suburb in the outskirts of Yokohama to the much more central Kannai district, The Full Monty has lots of imported ales and stouts on tap, as well as commendably large and authentic fish n’ chips and meat pies. The landlord is similarly authentic- a large, rosy-faced, bald, football-fanatic.
Despite the name of the place, there are (mercifully) no male strippers in attendance.
Full Monty British Pub, Tonnan Bldg 2Fl, 1-4-2Tokiwachou, Naka-ku,Yokohama-Shi
Tel: 045-212-2974

THE GREEN SHEEP

The Green Sheep is an Irish pub, conveniently close to West exit of Yokohama station (and directly next to the cheesy 80s soul club, Bar Luther, where you can go dancing afterwards.)
As the surreal and cute name of the place suggests, The Green Sheep is run by Japanese folks rather than actual Irish people so, while the menu and atmosphere aren’t very authentic, it has a pleasantly off-kilter, Japanized vibe. They serve the delicious “Yona Yona Ale,” and have live music events.
The Green Sheep
The Green Sheep, 1F, 2-10-13 Minami-saiwai, Nishi-ku, Yokohama 220-0005
Tel: 045-321-0950

THE LAST WALTZ

A poky little bar located down an obscure side street near Yokohama station, The Last Waltz is themed around Country Rock Bands like The Band and The Eagles. This kind of music is fine accompaniment to a few slightly pricey drinks (and some tasty fish and chips). It’s worth popping in here for a change of scenery once in a while, but you might get economy-class-syndrome from being cramped against the bar if you stay too long.
Last Waltz
TEL:045-441-5388

THRASH ZONE

For a thrash-metal-themed watering-hole, this joint is far more sophisticated than you might expect. I mean, check out the tasteful picture above! Even though they blast out heavy-metal tunes by the likes of Slayer, Pantera and Sepultura, the decor in Thrash Zone is subtle and the barman is very up-beat and welcoming. A weirdly incongruous blend of two worlds, (which is something I always enjoy). More importantly, Thrash Zone has several rare and scrumptious local micro-brewery beers on tap! It’s probably the best destination in Yokohama for beer-fans, even if you don’t like thrash-metal.
Thrash Zone
Paseri Bldg 2F, Tsuruyacho 2-19-8, Yokohama
Tel: 045-514-9947.

THE TAVERN

The best-known British pub in the area, this underground boozer shows live sport, and has a happy hour every weekday- all-you-can-drink Australian beer and selected cocktails from 6 to 8PM for 1900 yen. They also do an excellent traditional carvery on Sunday lunchtimes- all-you-can-eat roast beef and lamb for 1500 yen. Yum yum! A fine destination for gluttons. The Tavern also has carpets, barstools and wallpaper straight out of Coronation Street, and a middle-aged purveyor of appalling puns behind the bar.
The Tavern B1 Nishiguchi Meiwa Bldg, 2-14 Minami Saiwai Cho, Nishi Ku, Yokohama.
Tel. 045-322-9727

STOVES

A perennial favourite for ex-pats and tourists, Stoves, not far from the West exit of Yokohama station, serves up burgers and tex-mex food, and has a lively, party-time atmosphere. I generally only go there if I’m in the mood for some daytime drinking, because they have half-price drinks from 12 until 5PM every day. Nice!
Stoves
Tel:045-312-2278

PARTY ANIMALS

Located directly above the unique Characters Bar (a delightfully weird flea-market/bar I frequent), Party Animals is worth popping into if you’re in the area. Contrary to the bar’s name, the atmosphere inside is relatively subdued- you wont be forced to wear a toga and pour beer over your head while screeching “party on, duderino!” shortly before perpetrating a panty-raid, smoking super-skunk, and super-glueing a naked nerd to a comatose donkey… Unfortunately.
They have got a dart board though. And alcoholic beverages.
Party Animals
Kikuya Bldg, 2F, 1-19 Ishikawachyo, Naka-Ku, Yokohama-Shi 〒231-0868
Tel: 045-664-3434

You can read about some fun and bizarre novelty bars in Yokohama here.


Weird Watering Holes of Yokohama

October 15, 2007

Yokohama is Japan’s second biggest city, but it’s only 30 minutes from Tokyo by train, so most people hit the capital when they want to get utterly mashed and party on down. Yokohama does have a few of its own cool and unique bars and restaurants, though. Below are a list, in no special order, of my own personal favourite freaky hang-outs in Yokohama.

1: BAR LUTHER

First off, a Luther-Vandross-themed nightclub. How’s that for starters? Bar Luther is the best place near Yokohama station to dance like a sex-machine. The DJ spins classic 80s soul tunes courtesy of Prince, Hot Chocolate, and Vandross. There are even floor-to-ceiling mirrors and a disco ball. And all without a trace of irony. Groovy!
Read more about it here.

Info:
Tel: 0453148993
Bar Luther Homepage

2. CHARACTERS BAR

Looking more like a vintage toy emporium than a drinking hole, Characters, a self-styled “cafe/bar/fleamarket” offers the unique opportunity to drink while browsing for used toys.
Be careful if you get sloshed, or you might become overwhelmed by nostalgia and fork out a fortune for a Gremlins lunchbox or a Flintstones frisbee.
Read more about it here.

Info:
Characters Bar
Kikuya Bldg 1F
1-19 Ishikawa-cho, Naka-Ku,
Yokohama Shi 231-0826
Tel: (045) 6503080

3. THE AMAZON CLUB

The mysterious “Amazon Club” is an oddball eaterie which attempts to replicate the spirit of the secretive hideouts that US soldiers frequented in the fifties. It’s a dimly lit, cavernous place full of unusual and exotic decorative objects, like statues of Betty Boop and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and pickled snakes in laboratory jars.
Find out more here.

Info:
The Amazon Club
B1 Yokohama Bldg, 3-9 Kaigandori,
Naka-Ku, Yokohama-Shi 231-0002
Tel: 045 664 6101
Website: The Amazon Club

4: HONEY HONEY

Maid cafes aren’t only found in Akihabara, you know. Yokohama has it’s very own maid cafe, “Honey Honey,” a haven for geeks, where TV screens show cartoons, and nubile young ladies in French maid costumes draw pictures on your omelets with squeezy ketchup bottles. Don’t worry, they also sell beer.
You can read more about it here.

Here’s the “Honey Honey” homepage.

5: HALLOWEEN

You can go to this Halloween-themed cafe/bar all year round and act and dress like a weirdo without fear of reprimand. The music is classic Halloween tunes like Transylvania 6-5000 and Monster Mash, and the décor is all pumpkins and ghosts as you’d expect. Disappointingly there are none of the novelty cocktails (like “Dr Jeckyl’s Potion” or “Vampire’s Blood”) I’ve come to expect from these places, but the bar is still worth a visit for the novelty value, and presumably it’s good fun on October 31st.
Read a review here.

Tel: (045) 314-7856.

6: 3 BOZU CAFE

If a cave-based shrine to Frankenstein is your kind of place, you’ll like “3 Bozu Paradise”, a Frankenstein-themed joint hidden in the shadows down a dark side-street near Yokohama station. It’s an eerie eaterie that should please anyone who prefers Hellraiser to Hello-Kitty.
Kick back and have fun, under the leering gaze of a green reanimated corpse statue.
You can learn more here.

Info:
3 Bozu Paradise

Taiyou Building 1F, Minami Saiwai 2-20-12, Nishi-Ku, Yokohama City.
Open from 5pm to 4am
Tel: (04) 5320 3066


Tokyo’s Top Ten Weird Watering Holes

October 4, 2007

If you go out drinking in Tokyo, anything could happen, because Tokyo is a city full of mind-bogglingly bizarre bars and peculiar pubs that make other countries’ boozers look as dull and sterile as hospital waiting rooms by comparison (although, come to think of it, there’s probably a novelty bar actually designed like a hospital waiting room somewhere in Tokyo.) Below, in no particular order, is a round up of my top ten favourite eccentric establishments.

1: KAGAYA

The chief appeal of this utterly mental Shimbashi pub is the amazing host, Mark Kagaya, who surprises his customers by making them play weird games, and serves drinks in surreal international costumes. The menu is a puppet show.
Read more about it here.

Info:
Kagaya, Hanasada BLDG. B1F, 5-12, Shimbashi 2-Chome, Minato-Ku, Tokyo.
Tel: 03-3591-2347
Kagaya Homepage

2: ALCATRAZ + ER

At this truly macabre prison-hospital-themed eaterie in Shibuya, the waitresses wear nurses’ uniforms, the drinks are served in test-tubes, and your drinking is occasionally interrupted by a deranged escaped convict in an ice hockey mask. A classy joint.
Read about it here.

Info:
Tel: (03) 37707100
Alcatraz ER Website

3: DINING BAR SUBMARINE

This sub-aquatic-themed izakaya is submerged beneath the sleazy streets of Kabukicho, Shinjuku. Sit and drink rum in a cabin with portholes, and meet the proprietor, jolly “Captain” Kaji Aishin, who looks like a Japanese Captain Birdseye.
Read more here.

Info:
Dining Bar Submarine, Pocket Building B1, Kabukichuo 1-17-4, Shinjuku-Ku
Tel: (03) 5285-3480.
Dining Bar Submarine

4: ALICE IN WONDERLAND

A trippy destination for a party, this place is based around Lewis Carroll’s delirious story, with all the psychedelic decorations and costumes you might expect, and over a hundred different cocktails to choose from. Prepare for mental meltdown!

Info:
Address: Taiyo Bldg, 5F, 8-8-5 Ginza, Chuo-Ku, Tokyo 104 0061
Tel: (03) 35746980
Alice In Wonderland Website.

5: CHRISTON CAFE

In Japan, Christianity is still a novelty, so they’ve turned it into a theme-restaurant in Shinjuku. This place looks like a church and is full of religious imagery and statues, which makes it an unorthodox venue for knocking back cocktails. Worth a visit, (but you might feel compelled to behave yourself.)

Info:
Address: 8F Oriental Wave Bldg, 5-17-13 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-Ku.
Tel: (03) 52872426
More details at the Christon Cafe website.

6: ABSOLUT ICEBAR TOKYO

Why not come and freeze your nuts off in a bar full of ice? It costs a lot to get in, but that includes use of gloves and a cape, and your vodka stays cool all night. I wish I’d known about this place in August. In December it’ll be about as appealing as a trip to…er… a prison hospital.

Info:
Address: 4-2-4 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-Ku, Tokyo.
Tel: (03) 54642161
Absolut Icebar website

7: VAMPIRE CAFE

This vampire-themed joint in Ginza is both creepy and strangely kinky at the same time. the waitresses wear French maid outfits and the vermilion red decor is complemented by crucifixes, spiders, and Dracula’s coffin.

Info:
Address: 7F La Paix Building, 6-7-6 Ginza, Chuo-Ku.
Tel: 03-3289-5360
Here’s the Vampire Cafe website.

8: ARABIAN ROCK

Arabian Rock is a novelty restaurant in Shinjuku, designed to transport you to the old Arabia of Sinbad and Aladdin, complete with hookahs, Persian rugs, and the obligatory costumed staff (this time they’re wearing belly dancer costumes and MC Hammer trousers.) There are even cocktails themed around signs of the zodiac, and the “Magic Lamp Abracadabra,” which is six liqueurs you mix yourself in an Aladdin-style lamp.
Read all about it here.

Info:
Arabian Rock
2-3F Square Building, 1-16-3 Kabuki-Cho, Shinjuku-ku, 160-0021.

9: NINJA

What could be more Japanese than a Ninja-themed restaurant? At this cavernous underground Ninja-hideout in Akasaka, the food and booze are classy, and the waiters are dressed-up as Ninjas and perform brain-bending magic tricks. It ain’t cheap, though- you’ll need another drink when you see the check.
Info:
Address: 2-14-3 Akasaka Tokyo Plaza, Chiyoda-Ku.
Tel: (03) 51573936

10: OFFICE

Where better to let off steam after a hard day at the office than a bar that…er… looks exactly like an office? This place in Aoyama comes complete with a photocopier, desks, filing cabinets and a view of the city. Somehow it’s very cool.

Info:
Address: Yamazaki Bldg, 5F, Kita Aoyama 2-7-18, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Tel: (03) 57861052
Office Homepage.


The Amazon Club

September 18, 2007

The mysterious “Amazon Club” in Yokohama, near Bashamichi station, is another oddball eaterie I recommend checking out. That is, if you can find the joint- the restaurant is hidden on a quiet, innocuous street, in the basement of an office building. Upon entering, you find yourself in a deserted and nondescript, old-fashioned waiting area, which is decorated in a way not dissimilar to the hotel in “The Shining,” where are small sign instructs you to speak into an antique black telephone, and then the staff will sneak out of a hidden door to usher you inside.

It’s not clear what the hell the theme of the restaurant is supposed to be, (as far as I can see it has nothing to do with the Amazon river.) I’m told it’s an attempt to replicate the spirit of the secretive hideouts that US soldiers frequented in the fifties. It’s a dimly lit, cavernous place full of unusual decorative objects, like Betty Boop statues and pickled snakes in laboratory jars. A large cage containing a giant green statue of the Creature from the Black Lagoon was hanging precariously over my table. A trip to the toilets involves navigating your way through numerous hidden doors, which you have to press switches and buttons to open. (This novelty can wear thin if you’re busting for a piss!)

The food and drinks were tasty, reasonably priced, and the eclectic menu included such exotic delights as cactus and scorpion, which you can enjoy while marveling at the bewildering decor.
All of this adds up to yet another typically demented and fun night out in Japan.

Info:
The Amazon Club
B1 Yokohama Bldg, 3-9 Kaigandori,
Naka-Ku, Yokohama-Shi 231-0002
Tel: 045 664 6101
Website: The Amazon Club


Punk bar in Shibuya

August 25, 2007

Garage Land is a great, poky little punk-rock bar in Shibuya, just a few minutes from the station, but rarely overcrowded due to the lack of an elevator to take you to the third floor. The gaudy, yellow and pink sign outside, which caught my eye, is designed to look like the cover of the Sex Pistols’ “Never Mind the Bollocks.”

It’s a popular hang-out for visiting rock musicians. Inside, the walls are covered in the autographs and drunken marker-pen doodlings of the dozens of punk celebrities who have passed through while in Japan. The faces of Joe Strummer and the Ramones look down from posters on the walls, and their music blasts out of the speakers.
The price of booze is the only thing that isn’t punk rock in this place. (It’s a little pricey.) However, Monday to Wednesday are “Happy Days” and beer is 500 yen.

Info:
TEL&FAX: 03-3464-1831
Here’s a link to the Garage Land homepage with more information and a map.


Grade A

July 20, 2007

One of my regular haunts is “Grade A,” the bar on the fourteenth floor of the Camelot Hotel in Yokohama. Despite the hotel’s name there is no “Knights of the Round Table” theme in evidence- as usual in Japan, the name is seemingly irrelevant. Conveniently, because it’s in an international hotel, there are English menus, and the other customers aren’t too flabbergasted to see you there.
But the chief appeal of this place is the 2400 yen, two-and-a-half-hour, all-you-can-drink deal that’s available between five thirty and eleven every week night.
An added bonus is the gaggle of nubile young ladies wearing skin-tight minidresses who serve the drinks. Whenever I go there the only other customers are sozzled, be-suited businessmen who come to leer at the ladies. You can even get a neck rub and a special cocktail for 1000 yen extra. The girls deliberately jiggle their bodies while shaking the cocktails for the amusement of their patrons. You can even be spoon-fed tofu, like a baby.

Obviously, the atmosphere of dated chauvinism might not be to many peoples’ tastes- I feel sorry for the solitary female members of large office parties, who’ve been reluctantly dragged to the Camelot by inconsiderate male colleagues.
But part of the fun of this politically incorrect establishment is that it actually lives up to stereotypical image many people have of Japan. It’s practically a history museum. In addition to the outdated values, the whole place seems to be straight out of the early 1980s, even the wallpaper.
And I won’t deny that the sexy waitresses are easy on the eye.
So if you want insanely cheap drinks, scantily-clad ladies, and an uniquely Japanese vibe, Grade A lives up to its name.
Here’s the website