Reposted from August 2011
TFG Journeys takes you to the Whisky Club located in the Yotsuya district of Tokyo, Japan.
It was a rainy Thursday September afternoon and I had just arrived via bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo Shinjuku station. After spending a week between Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto, and Nara, I was finally acclimated to transit in and around Tokyo. I made it to my hotel without incident, dropped my bags, and decided to explore.
I was walking along one of the avenues when I heard old Jazz music blaring from the stairway to an underground entrance. The sound piqued my curiosity so I decided what to see what was down the stairs. As I approached, I saw old Jazz ads with covers for artists like Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong and Sonny Clark. As much as I tried to peek down the stairs, I couldn’t see the entrance to what appeared to be a bar of some sort. Being a tourist, I didn’t want to be lured in to a place I didn’t intend to go, and ending up wasting time. The lens cap on my camera had other ideas. I dropped it and it rolled down the stairs, forcing me to go down the stairs to retrieve it.
Once I arrived to the bottom of the stairs, I was amazed by what I discovered. It was part boys club and part speakeasy. The entire place was aglow in red and orange tones from the Maplewood furnishings and accents throughout. There was a placement of a piece of boyhood nostalgia in a bicycle, and a rack full of old Jazz magazines. Five gents strategically located themselves around the establishment, one reading an old Jazz rag, the other tucked away on the opposite side of the blinds, another seemingly exhausted in the far corner, one enjoying a drink and a smoke while vibing to the Jazz tunes, and another who appeared to be deep in thought over his coffee.
The barista greeted me shortly after I walked through the door, and gestured to me to take a seat. The DJ, a female, deliberately remained out of site. It was pretty evident as to why given the atmosphere and the customers. This is no place to bring your significant other on a date, or to enjoy a refreshment. It’s a proper boys club.
Seeing as how I had never been to a real boys club, Gentlemen’s Clubs excluded, I was like a kid in a candy store. I found Tokyo’s cultural pulse. The Whisky Cafe was real, original, and I loved it. As I looked around, there was something interesting within view. From where I sat, over my left shoulder was the DJ booth. The old Yamaha turntable placed prominently in front as another nostalgic artifact that’s more suited to the Jazz vibe than the CDs that lined the booth.
As I settled in, I was struck by the weight and rawness of the sound the jazz tunes. I turned my attention to the source of the sound and discovered the two audiophile-grade JBL 4344 MK II studio monitors integrated into each end of the wall at the rear of the cafe. Given their history, they are undoubtedly appropriate for the atmosphere.
The bartender brought my drink over as I sat and took in the old Jazz tunes. I was in utter amazement over my find. After about 30 minutes of lounging, I went over to the bartender and DJ to see if their arsenal of Jazz music is as deep as it appeared. I requested they play Thelonious Monk ‘Round About Midnight.’ There was a bit of a language barrier between us, but they understood Thelonious Monk. The DJ came back with two CDs showcasing the A-side version and the B-side. The latter being my preference, I pointed to it and off the DJ went. A few moments later, one of the Jazz tracks faded, and the slow intro began of what I could not easily discern, until very late into the song. It was the ‘Round Midnight A-Side. As the song played, the gent across from me, with his beanie hat, closed his eyes, intoxicated by the vibe of the song. The smoke from his cigarette followed the tune like a Cobra to its master’s flute.
The A-Side transitioned to the B-Side, making the 4344 Mk IIs sound even more impressive. Another gent walked in as the song was playing. He took note of my Sony Alpha 700 DSLR camera, and signaled to me that he was impressed, and how much he loves Sony. I gestured to him in acknowledgment. We spoke a bit as best we can between two people who don’t know each other’s language, but we had a few things in common, an appreciation for music, high-tech toys, in the best of settings, the Whisky Cafe (Boys Club)
Gents, Tokyo is truly one of the world’s great cities, and is without question a marvel. If you’re ever in town, pay a visit to the Whisky Cafe. Boys clubs are rare, and this hidden gem will make your trip a bit more unforgettable.