Thursday, August 20, 2009

Review: at_home, Donkey

Just to break things up a bit, I headed over to the other side of Chuu-ou Dori and one block farther north away from the Akihabara station to the Donkey Building, to visit the @Home on the 5th floor there. This particular location is probably the busiest one in the chain. I'd tried dropping by several times before and there was always a long line of people waiting to get in. Actually, the first time I went there was back last Winter when I was trying to find the AKB48 stage up on the 7th floor of the Donkey Building, and on the way back down the escalators I passed @Home. This was before I started visiting maid cafes, and back then, there wasn't a line. How quickly things change. Along with Pinafore 1, the Donkey @Home may be one of the most well-known maid cafes in Akihabara now.

This time, I arrived early. There were 12 people waiting in front of me, singles and couples. There are 11 little chairs, all numbered, placed in the waiting area, so I was standing for a while before the line started moving. It took almost an hour to get in. Fortunately, I had a book with me and I tore through that as I waited.

(Front view of the Donkey building.)

This @Home is harder to find because of the way the Donkey Building is laid out. The only way between floors is to take the escalator. The first floor leads to a pachinko parlor. The next 5 or so floors are packed with souvenir shops, cosplay shops and hentai gift shops. (As I mentioned, the top floor contains the AKB48 performance space.) When you get off the escalator on the 5th floor, there's a souvenir shop to the left. Go through that around to the left to get to the down escalators. To the right of the down escalator is the @Home gift shop, with snacks, branded curry, laminated cards and CDs and DVDs of the maids (spend 10,000 yen ($100 USD) on gifts and get a free photo with the maid of your choice). To the left is the entrance to the cafe itself, with the waiting area right in front of the escalator entrance.

I'd written in the previous review for 6F that I'd just gotten my Silver member's card, and within a couple of days I'd promptly lost it. When I reached the front of the line, I explained what had happened and was given a replacement card with no questions asked. Each of the cards above Bronze have a serial number that links to a database, so your number of visits is recorded electronically based on the serial number. Getting a new card means losing your previous points if you don't have the serial number written down. Fortunately, I only had the 5 points leading up to the bump in level, so I wasn't out anything when the card was replaced.

Funny enough, while did I hand over my expired Bronze card, with my name written on it in katakana, the maid coming over to get the next person in line to take them into the cafe misread the handwriting of the maid that had written on my card, pronouncing it as "Osada" or something. After being corrected by someone else, she called out my name correctly then spent the next 2 minutes apologizing for getting my name wrong. I entered the cafe to the usual shower of "welcome back, master" and sat down at a bench.

Unlike the other @Home cafes, Donkey has two seating areas, one with tables on the other side of a closed door, and the other with two rows of benches facing the walls, so the customers have their backs to each other. In this second area, the maids stand on a raised floor in the aisle between the bench and the wall. It's kind of a cold, isolated layout that discourages patrons from talking to each other, but the room is fairly narrow, only holding maybe 20 people total, so the layout is unavoidable. I didn't visit the table area so I can't talk about that. Next time.

There's no TV to look at, so no videos of the maids singing and dancing this time. But, there was some light J-pop constantly playing on the sound system that was probably by the maids. The maids were dressed in the same brown dress with white apron worn at the other locations. They were all fairly friendly, but obviously kept busy during the entire time I was there. A few of them were challenged to games by the customers, and the customers generally lost. About 40% of the patrons were women at any given time, and all looked to be enjoying themselves. At least half the men were what the newspapers would describe as otaku (the other half were high school or college students, or salarymen).

I ordered the "Mazemaze Otsukimi meat sauce pasta" set, which included a drink (ice coffee) and a maid photo for 1900 yen. The pasta is an al dente spaghetti with a tomato sauce with hamburger mixed in, and a poached egg on top (otsuki-mi means "moon viewing", hence the poached egg is supposed to look like the full moon). The maid mixes up the pasta while going through a 30-second long chant (similar to the one described in the 6F review) for "added flavor" (moe-moe, nyan-nyan, kyu-kyu, wan-wan, etc.) By the end of the chant, the egg is thoroughly a part of the sauce. The ice coffee had a similar ritual, where I had to say "nyan" to show the maid when to stop pouring the cream, "kyu" to stop pouring the sugar syrup, and "gyu" for when to stop stirring. Of course, this was followed by the "moe moe gyu" chant to "add flavor" to the coffee. The spaghetti was good, and a decent-sized portion, but I would have liked some hot sauce with it. The coffee was good, after the cream and sugar were added. But, with the cover (600 yen for silver members, 700 for bronze) the total came to 2500 yen ($25 USD), which is still pretty pricey.

For the maid photo, I had my choice of animal ears or a hat, and one of 4 different poses. This was very similar to what happened at 4F, Hana and 6F. A few minutes later it was embellished, I paid my bill, received my replacement points card, and left. This time, no one bothered giving me the "please come back, master" chant. The maids here seem to be a lot more enthusiastic over the people arriving; less so when you leave.

Name: @Home Donkey
Location: On Chuu-ou Dori, near the UDX building, on the 5th floor.
Price: Moderately-High. 700 yen cover just to get inside for 1 hour. 1100 yen entrees, 500 yen soft drinks. 1000-1100 yen cocktails.
Food: Standard food and soft drink selection, and quality. Some alcoholic mixed drinks.
Service: Mostly friendly and outgoing
"Love": Drawing of your choice on the food. The "moe moe gyu" chant over your drink.
Outfits: Brown dresses with white aprons, stockings and bloomers.
Photos: 500 yen, with one maid, or as part of one of the food sets.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: Some English-speaking staff; prototypical "maid cafe" setting. Maids will play games with the customers for prizes. Website in English.
Recommendation: Recommended if you have the time and are willing to wait to get inside. Otherwise, try going to 4F or 6F instead.

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