Food · Japan Travel

Theme cafes

This past Saturday, my friends and I went to The Lockup, the local branch of a chain of restaurants modeled on prisons. Kinda. Over lunch on Thursday, a coworker (who wanted to go, but couldn’t) asked me if I’d been to many theme cafes. I thought for a second, then said “No, not really. Not here, at least.” For I was thinking of my lone visit to the spy-themed bar, The Safe House, in Milwaukee, almost 20 years ago. But a few minutes later, I remembered some butler cafes … and a Granrodeo cafe … and the Show by Rock cafe I was just at last month and so had to included I’d been to a few, at least. And that’s not counting places like Namja Town or J-World, that have anime-themed foods.

The first I went to is arguably Tokyo’s most famous butler cafe, Cafe Swallowtail. I’m sure many of you have heard of maid cafes, where young women dress up like maids and cater to their (usually) male customers. Butler cafes are similar, but in the case of Swallowtail, at least, more refined. I’d wanted to go when it opened, but reservations were very difficult to come by. My chance came when a friend of mine who worked for Hirameki Entertainment game company asked if I’d like to go. Of course I said yes, and he had a fellow staffer make the reservations. Obviously the entire meal was conducted in Japanese, but my friend was kind enough to translate. When we were arrived, we were told to pretend we were returning to our country homes from a season in London and we’d stopped along the way for a spot of tea. The butlers at the time were all Prince of Tennis fans, so adopted character names on their blogs, but for my visit, mine had been directed to use the name of my (then) favorite seiyuu. Heh. He told us all about the very nice china we were using, and explained the menu.  I don’t recall what tea I had, but the orange-rosemary cake I had was very, very good. My butler was not as attentive as he should have been, so I ended up filling my cup at one point … only to discover him magically at my side, whisking the pot away from me and never letting my cup get empty again. I enjoyed the quiet ambiance, the attractive young men dressed as butlers, and the food. I’ve never been back, but certainly wouldn’t mind going again some day.

I was less impressed with my next cafe, which I went to with my friend Winnie. Edelweiss’ theme was a European boys school, so all the guys had on green and cream colored school uniforms. It didn’t help that we got lost trying to find the place and thus got shooed out before we could have dessert. But the food and ambiance were both lacking. It was Easter, and I ended up having a blah egg salad sandwich, as I recall. Unlike Swallowtail, Edelweiss is long gone, so I assume I wasn’t the only person to be underwhelmed.

3848897389_4e7c288c08_bNext up was a cafe I discovered through an article on the game Animamundi, one of Hirameki’s games. And that would be the Christon Cafe, known for its over the top religious icons and decor. I haven’t been to the big Shibuya one, but the smaller on in Osaka, which ended up being near my hotel when I was there in 2009 for a seiyuu event. I’m sure many folks would be horribly offended by the kitsch, but I really liked it. And the food was good. I don’t recall everything my friend and I had, but the beef tartare was quite tasty. I’d love to go back, especially now that I know the one here in Fukuoka must have closed some time back.

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A few years passed before my next cafes, which came in spring of 2013, when my friend Thea joined me in Japan for Granrodeo’s G8 concerts. In showing her around Tokyo, we stopped by the Shirokuma Cafe and the small outpost of the Gundam Cafe on Odaiba. Shirokuma Cafe is based on the anime of the same name, about a cafe run by, well, a shiroi (white) kuma (bear) aka a polar bear. The show is endearing, and I adore it.

And I like the cafe, which is why I8684214561_9a1c5e9b70_k‘ve been back twice since. Just as in the anime, Panda-kun and Penguin-san sit at the counter; the wait staff dress like Sasako, and the decorations change periodically to honor one or more characters. The food’s decent and it’s easy to get to. A definite fave.

I haven’t made it yet to the larger Gundam Cafe in Akihabara, which I believe actually has seats and a full menu. The Odaiba cafe is mostly about selling, but has snacks and decent hot drinks. Plus it has the giant gundam out front!

8347202141_d182686026_kA visit to Japan for a pair of Granrodeo concerts in fall of 2013 afforded me the opportunity to visit a limited cafe in the Shibuya Parco celebrating their latest single.

I guess technically my first Granrodeo cafe was the food offering at their New Year’s 2013 shows, and again at the summer shows, but it wasn’t a d10863139243_8a1d97a5ab_kedicate space like the The Other Self Cafe was.

TVs in the cafe played videos from the band, plus special messages, their outfits from the summer shows were on display, and the menu items all had amusing names based on the band’s song titles. The food and drinks changed after a couple of weeks, but I could only go once. I had a sausage plate, which I remember being good, and a salty dog to drink.

And, of course, there were a few things for sale. The food was surprisingly good, the alcohol not watered down, and it was fun. This was their second cafe, but alas, there hasn’t been one since.

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Last month, before yes, another Granrodeo-related event, (well, kinda — the lead singer’s 40th birthday party)  a friend and I went to a20593745790_fbb36c81eb_k cafe celebrating the success of the Show by Rock anime. We had actually tried to go two weeks before (again, before a Granrodeo event), on the opening weekend, but gave up after 2 or 3 hours of waiting. Had we stuck it out, it would’ve been 5.5 hours of waiting.

As it was, we waited another couple of hours to get in the second time. Was it worth it? In retrospect, probably not, but it was fun and the food was passable. As to be expected, there were videos from the anime, posters, life-sized cut-outs of the characters and more.

Plus goods, of course.

20150905_220828Which brings us to this past weekend and The Lockup. Billed as a prison restaurant, it’s more of a mash-up of prison theme meets Japanese horror meets an insane asylum meets mad scientists. Sure, when you get there (and we almost got lost in the tiny antechamber, which doesn’t say much for our collective sense of direction) you have to give up one of your own as the bad one, and they get led in handcuffs to the table, and some of the booths (not ours) do have prison doors. But the food is more horror themed, and the drinks very mad scientist (beakers, vials, test tubes). And about 45 minutes or so into our visit, prison “free time” happened, which involved disco lights, Japanese monsters and a lot of mad dancing around 20150905_214852and trying to scare the patrons. To me it was far more amusing than scary, and went on about 5 minutes too long, but it was preferable to the fear of something leaping out at you unexpectedly. The food was good, particularly the roast chicken, and I’d actually like to go back and try some other items (we did the osusume or recommended course). The drinks were amusing, but not that good, other than what seemed to be Baileys with milk that came with an oreo … and a mortar and pestle for crushing up the oreo. Next time, will skip the all you can drink and just have a couple of those.

Next up, a local Alice in Wonderland themed cafe. Not part of the chain that’s in Tokyo, but an independent one. Looking forward to it!

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