Thursday, July 30, 2009

Review: Gentoukan

I like Gentoukan. The atmosphere is relaxed and the chairs are comfortable.

The only real drawback to Gentoukan is in being able to find it. Even with the map on the flier, it took me several trips around the block before I noticed the small sign in front of the building. Probably the easiest path is to take the north exit from the JR Akihabara station to the UDX building, turn left and continue past Chuu-ou Dori to the next set of street lights. Turn right and walk two short blocks. Turn right again and it will be on your right at the middle of this block. Look for the building with the bench on the porch in front.

Gentoukan bills itself as a "retro" maid cafe. You quickly discover what this means when you get inside. As you enter, the maids greet you with "welcome back home, master", then guide you in taking your shoes off and putting on slippers. The room is "L"-shaped, with the bar at the angle of the L. It's a little narrow, maybe 15 feet wide, but long enough to hold 18-20 people at the little dark wood tables. The benches and chairs are also dark wood, with red velvet upholstery. The walls are a subdued beige, with a few old paintings and photos scattered about.

Essentially, this is a 1930's western style Japanese bar, with a flat screen TV on the left wall playing old movies. The one I saw (unfortunately the sound was turned off) was "Kinema no Tenchi" (Cinema Heaven, 1986), a look back on the 1930's era of film making in Tokyo, about an unprepared young girl that suddenly finds herself the lead actress in a new movie.

The maids wore a nice outfit consisting of a black dress and apron with red and white trim and white stockings. They were all friendly and outgoing, but obviously relieved when they discovered they didn't need to speak English with me. The menu was in Japanese. Gentoukan is largely a bar that serves a fair amount of standard foods. The menu is given on their website, but there are no photos of the dishes. They have a variety of curries, pastas and pilafs, plus soft drinks, beer and cocktails (alcoholic as well as non-). The prices are reasonable for a maid cafe, 750-900 yen for the entries, 500-700 yen for the soft drinks and desserts, and no cover charge. Based on the reactions of the other customers, everything tasted good.

When I arrived, there were about 10 customers, all male, and about a 50-50 mix of college students and older businessmen. Most were just drinking cocktails or beer, while surfing the net on their cell phones. The place cleared out within about 10 minutes, but there was a slow trickle of people coming in for the dinner crowd.

I didn't see a mention of a "cheki" (photo with a maid) in the menu, but there were a number of signs promoting the "ramune" (I think that's the spelling) cards. These are laminated photos of the maids and are primarily available as a "drink set" with the "original maid cocktail" (1200 yen for the drink and card, 1000 for just the drink). I decided to start off with the coffee float (700 yen) and green tea sponge cake (500 yen). The float consisted of ice coffee and a scoop of vanilla ice cream and could have used more sugar syrup. But the green tea sponge cake was good, and they do let you take pictures of the food.

Then I ordered the original maid cocktail, and they gave me the non-alcoholic version because I was about to head off to start work for the night. The drink was made up of blue syrup and some citric fruit juices - a little sharp and not too sweet, but good. It was stirred at the table with a "24K solid gold" swizzle stick. Afterwards, my maid brought out a stack of her laminated cards and gave me one with her in full cosplay. We talked for a while, and she spent several minutes talking about how she likes doing cosplay (she didn't go to the Cosmode event at the UDX a few weeks ago, though).

Gentoukan does have a point card. It's 1000 yen per point, and at 40 points you get a free photo (cheki) together with a maid of your choice, and you get a bonus present if you fill up 5 point cards. Ask your server for more details.

Then it was time to leave, and I handed back my number marker, switched back from the slippers to my street shoes and headed off to work. Overall, it was a pleasant time, and I kind of hated to leave. Fortunately, Gentoukan doesn't have a cover charge, so the entire experience only cost 2400 yen. I may come back again some time to see what other movies they have, and they do advertise various events on their website. But, I'm not inclined to spend the $400 to get the "cheki" at this point.

(If you try to find Gentoukan by walking to the UDX building, taking a left, crossing Chuu-ou Dori and then turning right at the next light, then this the second street that you want to turn at to find the cafe.)

Name: Gentoukan
Location: 3-4 blocks west of the UDX building, on the west side of Chuu-ou Dori.
Price: Moderate
Cover: No cover, but there is a one drink minimum.
Food: Full range of entries, soft drinks, desserts and alcoholic drinks.
Service: Very friendly, attentive and willing to answer your questions about the menu.
"Love": I didn't notice any drawings on the food, and they don't chant over your drinks.
Outfits: Black dress and apron with red and white trim.
Photos: I didn't see anything on the menu about a photo with a maid. You do get a free maid photo if you fill up the points card, and they offer laminated "cosplay" photos of the maids for an additional 200 yen if you get the house special cocktail.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: 1920's western-style "retro" bar, with old movies, and photos lining the walls.
Recommendation: Gentoukan is easily one of the most relaxed cafes I've been to so far. The staff is friendly, outgoing and willing to listen to the customers talk (almost too willing, if you want to place an order and they're talking to another customer). Highly recommended.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Maid-related Products, 2

Time to re-visit the wonderful world of maid-cafe tie-ins. The first time, I included cosplay shops and pictures of Akihabara itself. This time, I'll only focus on foods with maid box art.

Let's start out with the best of the bunch. This is "MaiBii" (Maid Beer). The only beer officially recommended by maids! With "Adult Taste". Actually, I think it's just fruit-flavored soda, but I love the label.

Next up, maid ramen. This is just a package of ordinary ramen noodles. You have to add your own vegetables and seasonings.

Here we have canned maid bread. Chocolate cream flavor.

Actually, canned bread is a very popular anime tie-in, and can easily be found in the Tokyo Anime Center for a variety of anime shows.

"Moe moe".

The bread, de-canned. It's nothing really special, but it does taste good heated up with melted butter. The can then works well as a piggy bank.

This is one of the odder food products. Take hazelnuts, dry and powder them, then smash the powder into thin wafers squares. It tastes good, if you like hazel sawdust. Not sure what would be best to drink with them.

Finally (for now) we have "Puchi Maid no Apple Pie" ("puchi" means "petit").

I love the look on the maid's face as she eats the apple.

These are small puff pastries, kind of pie-like, with a smear of apple paste inside. They're pretty good, but it's a bit pricey for what you get.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Review: Mononopu

When you think of "maid cafes", what's the first thing that comes to mind? Frilly dresses, "moe" maids, curry rice and chocolate parfaits? Put them all together and what do you get? Yes, Japan's "warring states" era!

(Business card)

Mononopu is a newly-opened Sengoku-style cafe (July 18) located on Chuu-ou Dori a few blocks north of the JR Akihabara station, in the same building as Pinafore 2. In fact, it's on the next floor up, floor 5, and shares the same entrance at the back of the building. The layout is fairly spacious, again with enough seating for about 30 people at the wood-paneled tables and bar. Pictures of old samurai armor line the walls, with a few cloth banners interspersed between them. Fake torches burn on poles around the bar, and at the back is a closed off "VIP" room. One of the more interesting features is the door leading to the rest rooms. This door rotates around its center, rather than being hinged at one side, so it's almost like entering a secret passage to get to the toilets.

(Stamp card, AKA: Point card)

There's a 500 yen cover charge per hour, or 1000 yen for the "Gold Tea Room" VIP space. You need to be a little careful about this during slack times, because there may only be two people on staff and you'll find yourself being charged for a second hour simply because you've been waiting so long for your dessert to arrive. However, if you get the points card, according to the website, as you accumulate more points the cover charge decreases. It's 1 point per 1000 yen (it doubles on a rainy day), and the card's good for 1 year from the last stamp (if I understand the rules correctly).

(Back of business card, showing map)

The maids are extremely friendly, and at least one can speak some English. They're in "full-recruit mode" right now, with several maids standing out on Chuu-ou Dori handing out fliers. They're more than willing to guide you to the cafe and to talk to you along the way. Again, I was reading some Tezuka manga at my table and that was a good conversation starter. If you speak Japanese, the conversations will go a lot smoother. The outfits are a combination of frilly white apron and blue dress, with pink shoulder pads and gold-sheathed sword (plastic of course).

I only saw the one, Japanese menu, although the rules card describing the cover charge was printed with English text. The maids will describe the food items if you have trouble reading the menu. The foods include the standard curry rice, omelet rice and pasta, plus there are some desserts, soft drinks and some alcoholic drinks (beer and mixed cocktails). The menu link on the website hasn't been activated yet so you can't see the foods list at the moment. The prices are a little on the high side, with 1000 yen for a plain curry rice, especially when coupled with the cover charge. But, the food that I tried was good. I got the curry rice (1000 yen), an ice coffee (500 yen) and a maid photo (500 yen). Fortunately, while you're not allowed to shoot the inside of the cafe, you can take pictures of the food.

(Coffee coaster)

When the coffee came out, my maid carefully laid out the cream and sugar, and placed the straw in the glass for me. She then took her sword and "added flavor" to the drink by drawing out a heart-shaped attack pattern while giving a short chant. The guests are invited to mimic the pattern if they like. When the curry arrived, I didn't get a drawing on it, but the maid gave a completely different chant along with a wicked cross cut above the plate. (The couple at the next table even got a "sengoku beam" attack as part of the chant for additional flavor.) It's performance art and it's very cute.

Finally, I had to ask a couple of times to get the maid photo, but I guess that part of the confusion came from my initial maid going back outside to hand out more fliers, leaving only two women to work the bar and take food orders (there were a few kitchen staff doing the actual cooking) at about the time when business started to pick up. About one-third of the customers were women. During a lull, the maids offered to pull "Nobunaga" out for the photo and I then learned that Nobunaga is the name of the set of armor sitting on a wheeled chair in one corner, with a pink heart drawn on its chest. No idea how the real Nobunaga would have reacted to having hearts decorating his chestplate, but he'd probably be down with it. I was given a sword, directed to take a combat pose, and then the photo was taken to the front for detailing work.

The cafe does have a souvenir coffee mug for about 1560 yen, and some small snacks for purchase at the counter. They also have fliers for Mai Dreamin', so the two places may have a common partnership somewhere behind the scenes. While I was there I didn't see anyone using the VIP room, so I may decide to try renting it some time if the opportunity arises. Overall, I enjoyed myself, but having to pay 1000 yen for a 2-hour cover took some of the fun out of the experience. At a minimum, though, it was a lot easier getting a maid photo here than it was for Pinafore or Nagomi, and that's a really big plus.

Name: Mononopu
Location: Chuu-ou Dori, near the "Boku-tachi no Tarou" building, one floor above Pinafore 2, 5th floor.
Price: Moderately high.
Cover: 500 lets you stay one hour. Be careful about over staying the hour if service gets slow because you will be charged for the second hour if you go a few minutes over. 1000 per hour for the Gold Tea Room.
Food: The standard array of curry rice, omelet rice, pasta, desserts and soft drinks. Mononope does have a bar, with beer and some mixed drinks. The menu page on the website doesn't work yet as of this printing.
Service: Good service, friendly and outgoing if you speak Japanese. Does have a tendency to slow down during the early evening on Tuesdays, when I was there.
"Love": I didn't see drawings on the food, but they do have special chants and sword attack patterns above your food for "adding extra flavor".
Outfits: Blue dress, white frilly apron, pink shoulder armor, and gold-sheathed swords.
Photos: 500 yen, with one maid.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: No special events yet, that I know of. They do greet you with the "welcome back master" phrase when you arrive, and they have the entire Sengoku vibe going. Gold Tea VIP Room.
Recommendation: Highly recommended if you like the romantic sengoku-era manga or anime series ala Sengoku Basara. It is worth visiting at least once.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Dansou Cafes

The Metropolis ran an article a little while back on female manga fans - "fujoshi" - that like "boys love" stories. Specifically, it was a feature on the all-female band Fundan Juku, which I had written about in my other blog months earlier. Anyway, they had a side bar on "Dansou" (Butler), and the like, cafes in Ikebukuro that cater to women. I'm running that list here in the hopes that someone will help add to it. I don't get to Ikebukuro often, so I don't know how complete it is, and there's so many places I haven't been to yet in Akihabara that I don't know when I'll visit any of these. To be honest, I haven't seen any of the below places so far.

Ikebukuro Cafes:

One of the first danso cafes in Ikebukuro.
1-31-15 Higashi-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku. Tel: 03-5957-7297. Open daily noon-9pm. All-male groups can enter from 2-6pm.

80 + 1
The name is slang for yaoi (8 reads “ya,” 0 reads “o” and 1 is “i”), Men are allowed only after 6pm.
3-9-13 Higashi-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku. Tel: 03-3984-7551. Open daily 3-10pm.

Akihabara Cafes:

Queen Dolce
Hosts lots of tie-in promotions for anime.
3F, 3-15-6 Soto-Kanda, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-3252-2031. Open Tue-Fri 2-10pm, Sat-Sun 1-10pm, closed Mon. Nearest stn: Akihabara or Suehirocho.

Good Rock - Boys:Style -
Good Rock offers a wide range of alcoholic beverages.
2-19 Kanda-Sudacho, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-3254-5300. Open daily 3-10pm. Nearest stn: Akihabara.

Just outside Akihabara:

Cafe B’s Prince
Dansou cafe that had at least one "little brother" event. They're apparently tied to the B’s Prince idol group.
5-6-4 Soto-Kanda, Chiyoda-ku. Tel: 03-6380-9540. Open 10am-10pm. Nearest stn: Suehirocho.


Butlers Cafe
Not mentioned in the Metropolis article, probably because it didn't meet the author's preconceptions, is Butlers Cafe, which I found on wikipedia. This is a western-style butler cafe with gaijin staff, opened in 2006 by Yuki Hirohata. Check here for the map and address.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Review: Nagomi Cafe and Bar

Having had a disappointing experience at Pash Cafe Nagomi, I was a little hesitant to try their second location. However, it was close to my office, and on the same block as Pinafore 2, so I decided to drop by after getting my Pinafore maid photo prior to heading for work.

As stated in the name, Cafe Bar Nagomi is a bar that serves food, and is definitely more of a bar than a cafe. It's on the second floor of the former Ore-tachi no Tarou building, on Chuu-ou Dori 4 blocks north of the JR station, right above the Akiba no Usagi Jinga. Of course, they don't allow photos, not even of the food. Inside, it's a cosy little place with tables for 4-5 couples along one wall and about 8 people at the bar. The walls are red-lined, and the lighting is subdued, making the place a little dark.

They have various events during the month, and since I came in on Tanabata Day (July 7), the two female bartenders were wearing yukata. Mostly, it seems to be a tsundere bar, with the women trading friendly insults with the customers. There were 6-7 guys at the bar when I arrived and they all seemed to be eating up the treatment. They were drinking shots of hard alcohol but with some beer and finger food. I got the omelet rice and ice coffee, and the maid drew a really cute cat on the omelet. The rest of the bar was also disappointed that we couldn't photograph the cat to preserve it for posterity. The bartender told us that the picture would just have to live on in our hearts.

The omelet rice was pretty good, and the serving size was large for the 800 yen. The ice coffee was a bit small for the price (500 yen or so) and just tasted normal. There weren't any chants over the food or special treatment when entering the bar other than being led to a chair and being greeted with "welcome back".

(Outside of main window)

There is an English menu, but it's the Japanese menu that mentions being able to play games against the maids for a small fee to win prizes. When you buy certain alcoholic drinks, the bartender brings out a jar with folded slips of paper. You pull a slip and if you're lucky, you win a free maid photo. Otherwise, you apparently can't just pay to have one taken. Since I needed to go to work afterwards, I didn't bother getting a drink. They also had the capsule ball machines near the door, but I didn't have the spare 300 yen this time to see what the capsules contained (at Pash, one capsule had a maid photo and a small square of cloth).

The customers were really friendly and a few of them struck up a conversation with me during the meal, which was also a departure from Pash Cafe. So, given the choice I'd prefer going to Cafe Bar Nagomi over Pash Cafe anytime.

Both CBN and PCN offer point cards, but they're not quite the same card design, so I don't know if either card is good in both places. For CBN, you get 1 point for every 500 yen spent, and 30 points gives you one free drink. If you're going to spend $150 USD like that, you better be prepared to turn into a regular patron.


Trip 2
A few nights later, I stopped by CBN on my way back to the train station after work. There were about 10 patrons in the bar drinking shots and mixed drinks, 2 female bartenders plus the guy running the kitchen. The bartenders were dressed in a white blouse and blue skirt school girl's uniform as part of a "younger sister" motif. The menu even listed a "younger sister cocktail". Again, everyone was friendly, but I did feel out of place, being the oldest one in there. I started out with a shochu (distilled drink made from various starch forms - in this case from sweet potato) for 500 yen. Immediately after, I got the "original cocktail", which was a blue mix of vodka, gin, club soda and something blue. For the evening, the drinks were discounted 100 yen, so this one was 600. But when I bought the "original", they brought out the jar of paper slips and apparently I drew one that canceled the discount price, since my bar tab was modified and the total bill came to 1300 yen. Anyway, the drink was good, and I headed back home then.

CBN is a decent drinking hole, and I may occasionally drop by again once in a while on my way home. I just hope that next time I get a more favorable piece of paper...

Name: Cafe Bar Nagomi
Location: Chuu-ou Dori, 4 blocks north of the JR station, on the second floor of the former Ore-tachi no Tarou building.
Price: Moderate.
Cover: No cover.
Food: Standard entrees (curry rice, rice omelet), desserts and soft drinks. The omelet rice was good, and a large serving. This is a bar, so it has the full range of drinks and hard alcohol in the 600 to 1000 yen range.
Service: Bartenders seem to be willing to give you the tsundere treatment, which is friendly but insulting at the same time.
"Love": Drawing of your choice on the omelet rice and curry rice.
Outfits: I went on Tanabata, so both women were wearing yukata. No idea what the standard outfit is.
Photos: Given as a prize from a drawing when you buy alcoholic drinks.
Wireless Internet: No.
Specialties: Tsundere bar that serves food. Seems to have a hardcore repeat clientele.
Recommendation: Recommended if you're looking for a drink accompanied by the cold shoulder treatment. The food's good, and the bartenders bring your drinks to you within a minute or two of your order.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Maid Keitai Straps

Scattered around Akihabara, there are little capsule dispenser machines that contain ketai straps (little straps that you attach to your cell phone) and pins that are branded products for 4 of the maid cafes there. The featured cafes are Mai:Lish, Mia Cafe, Pinafore and Cos-Cha.

The straps are 200 yen each. I got this particular one from the machine in front of Pinafore #1, and discovered another machine inside the tunnel in Radio Land. The brochure says "Costume Party, Maid Cafe Collection Pins and Strap".

The capsule contains one of 8 straps or pins, plus a little pamphlet which shows all 8 designs and has a map to all 4 shops. Yet another example of the maid cafes' ability to promote their brands.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Review: Akiba no Usagi Jinja

Edit: Akiba no Usagi Jinji closed its doors in April. The space currently is being remodeled, apparently for a ramen shop.

As a whole, maid cafes are supposed to be just that, cafes where the staff dresses up as maids. But within this "genre", there are a variety of subsets that include butler cafes (male staff dressed as butlers), dansou cafes (cross-dressing female staff as butlers), little brother cafes (cross-dressing female staff as younger siblings) and even maid bars. So, it's acceptable to include shrine cafes in the mix.

In Japan, Shinto shrines have male and female staff. The female staff are called "miko", and they're commonly portrayed in manga as grounds sweepers, exorcists, and gift shop attendants.

Which brings me to "Akiba no Usagi Jinja" (Akihabara's Rabbit Shrine). "Usagi" is a small gift shop and cafe located in the space previously occupied by "Ore-tachi no Tarou" on Chuu-ou Dori, on the same block as Pinafore 2. Usagi is a fascinating place that just opened a couple of months ago. From the street, it just looks like an "omiyage shop" (souvenirs) selling pre-boxed maid cookies, Lucky Star snacks and shaved ice (kakigori). Many of the snacks here are the same as at Aso Bit and Maid Club, but some of them, like the strawberry-flavored daifuku (soft rice-paste balls (mochi) with a jam center) are unique to Usagi.

Inside is a small shrine dedicated to a rabbit god, with two little rabbit statues. Pictures lining the wall show manga-style characters associated with the shop, and a small dispenser sells fortunes and lucky talismans just like at any of the larger shrines. You can buy a wooden plaque decorated with your choice of artwork, write your wish on it and hang it on one wall of the shop. Many of the plaques had "wish you well" greetings dedicated to the shop from friends and contained some great original drawings by them.

(Strawberry daifuku with chocolate centers)

Along with the omiyage, they sell frozen mochi desserts for 150 yen, and there's seating for about 10 people if you want to sit down and stay a while. I just got a box of strawberry daifuku (630) and a frozen powdered green tea mochi. The green tea mochi was packed with green tea powder and the flavor was very strong. It was very good, but it's kind of bitter and an acquired taste. The daifuku are small, soft, squishy chocolate-paste filled strawberry snacks that are great with a cup of hot tea. They come with a free fortune inside. In order to increase the flavor of the purchases, my miko performed a "pyon pyon aji ohairi" style chant ("hop hop, add good flavor") over the bag.

(My fortune)

I decided to get a fortune (omikuji) for 100 yen. I like the character design, and my miko told me that this was a very auspicious fortune that boded lots of good luck.

The staff is extremely friendly and at the time consisted of the miko and the guy running the gift counter. They even gave me a free maid photo.

(Plaque wall)

The website has a couple movie files showing the shop itself and the various products they carry, and links to three different blogs, Their online shop isn't up and running yet, but that'll happen eventually.

(The pieces of paper next to the photos give a short description of each character)

This is a great twist on the maid cafe concept, and I hope that Usagi has a long and successful future.

(Package for the little bunny cakes, and a frozen daifuku)

(The little hand-wrapped bunny cakes. with sweet bean paste centers.)

Name: Akiba no Usagi Jinja
Location: Chuu-ou Dori, 4 blocks north of the JR station, where Ore-tachi no Tarou used to be.
Price: Moderate,
Cover: No cover.
Food: Mostly souvenir snacks and shaved ice.
Service: Very friendly and helpful.
"Love": Chants of "hop hop add extra flavor" over your food.
Outfits: Shinto shrine miko uniform - white and red costume with black rabbit ears.
Photos: Free when I bought some snacks.
Wireless Internet: No.
Specialties: Shinto shrine theme, with a small shrine dedicated to a rabbit god. Art work created by a professional manga artist.
Recommendation: Highly recommended for the shaved ice and frozen daifuku on a hot Tokyo summer day. And be sure to pray at the shrine for good luck.