Monday, February 25, 2008

Oh glorious article in The Japan Times on the best theme bars in Tokyo.

The Japanese are theme-bar crazy, so culling the list down to these few must have been quite a feat. I've only been to relatively boring theme bars in Japan myself -- chandelier-theme, cafeteria-theme, American liquor only-theme, cabana-theme. I have been to a kickass but outrageously expensive jungle-theme restaurant though (on the same night, BTW, that I went to a three-story techno dance club with no visible windows where everyone was smoking, and imbibed the crappiest Bloody Mary ever known to man). And I have also been (twice!) to a super cool gay underwater-themed disco bar -- which believe me is something not only because of the heavy stigma still attached in Japan to homosexuality, but because as a woman, I'm not even allowed into most Japanese porn shops, much less into a gay bar.

I'm listing this one in its entirety in case I can't find the article again before my next visit, because I am SO going:


There's a monk in full robes, sitting at an altar chanting. A few yards away, another monk is pouring a Scotch for a customer. Yotsuya San-chome's Vowz is one of three loosely related Vowz bars in Japan (the others are in Osaka and Tokyo's Nakano), each of which was established by Jodo sect Buddhist monks to stir interest in their religion.

If nothing else, Vowz suggests that if you're going to be a Buddhist, you should be a Jodo Buddhist. Bartending monk Yoshinobu Fujioka says that it is "pretty much OK" for his sect to do most of the things that you might think Buddhist monks don't do. Such as drink. Or run a bar. Or eat beef jerky. Or buy wines with reptiles pickling inside.

For less liberal believers, the menu offers hanya, a rice wine that, says Fujioka, is the one form of alcohol that even their pious brethren can drink. There are also numerous idols to worship, and enthusiastic bartenders happy to discuss the faith. Vowz is a true place of prayer, a seat of learning and a pretty good spot for a beverage.

2F 6 Arakicho, Shinjuku-ku; (03) 3353 1032. Open: Mon.-Sat., 7 p.m.-1 a.m.

Righteous! Or, er, not very righteous, but awesome!

I think I'll have to try and hit that Gothic Lolita bar too, if just for drinks called "young Gretel's suffering (vodka and cocoa) and tragic marionette (whisky Cointreau), whose bitterness, claims the menu, is provided by tears."

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