Monday, September 28, 2009

Metropolis article on Maid Cafes

The Sept. 11 issue of the Metropolis magazine has yet another Pop Life article by Patrick Galbraith, this time on maid cafes. I always cringe when I see something written by him, because he's so quick to insult male otaku while getting all smarmy and patronizing over female otaku (for the record, the Japanese use "otaku" to refer to anyone that obsesses over a specific hobby or interest, which is occasionally used interchangeably with "mania". So you can have a "train otaku" just as easily as you can have a "j-noise otaku". Galbraith usually uses "otaku" to mean "loser anime/video game/manga-loving fanboy geeks".)

In the "At Your Service" article on maid cafes, you can hear his teeth grinding as he's trying to avoid his regular backhanded comments. I'll refrain from commenting on the accuracy of the article, and instead just mention it here to let you draw your own conclusions.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Review: JAM



JAM, is very loosely styled on an Irish pub, as indicated by their four-leaf clover logo. It's in the basement of the Yamaguchi building just west of the Mandarake used manga building on the west side of Chuu-ou Dori, north of Kanda Myojin Dori. There aren't any signs on the building itself - you need to look for the little signboard set up on the sidewalk. Go down the stairs, right around corner and through the door.

The cafe is in a relatively spacious area, with 2- and 4-person wooden tables, and padded metal chairs. I didn't try counting the number of tables, but they can probably seat 40 people. It's a lively setting, and the customers were chatting loudly when I came in. Unlike MIA Cafe, the servers at JAM tended to engage in conversations with the customers (although they mostly ignored me). On the other hand, the servers are very attentive, and kept coming over to refill my water glass when it got empty. The walls were covered with posters and photos from past events (such as with the one set of photos with the maids in red Santa suits). The register counter also sold various JAM-branded goods, like cell phone straps, laminated cards and beer glasses. These goods are also shown in their online shop.



The staff are referred to as "fairies", and their house special menu items are also labeled with "fairy". The fairies are dressed in a dark blue dress with white apron and white lace trim. Most of them wore dark blue knee stockings. They greeted me with the "welcome home master", and sent me out the door with "take care, master". But there was no "added flavor" chants over the food and I didn't see any options for challenging them to a game. Basically, this is more of a straight cafe along the lines of Cure Maid.

There is a lunch menu. The dinner menu has the standard curry rice, omelet rice, pastas and hamburg (spelled "humburg") steak dishes in the 800 yen range. Desserts are mainly cakes and tortes in the 500 to 700 yen range. They have the standard 500 yen soft drinks, but their strong point is the fully stocked bar. They're the only cafe I've seen so far that offers Chimay on the menu. The dinner special this time was a beef stew with 3 pieces of french toast for 1000 yen, and the flavored ice drinks for 650 yen. The stew consisted of a sweet brown sauce with chunks of potato and beef, sprinkled with a little sour cream. The ice drink, called a "kouri cafe", was mostly a tall glass of milk with coffee ice cubes inside (also available are the green tea matcha ice cubes, and the strawberry juice ice cubes). The coffee kouri cafe was much like a cold cafe au lait, and tasted good with some sugar syrup. The stew was a little too sweet and definitely wouldn't pass as an "Irish stew". But it wasn't bad and it was fairly filling. Total meal came to 1,650 yen ($17 USD).


(Points card)

JAM doesn't offer maid photos. Instead, they have a mostly points card-based goods system. Some JAM-branded items, like a few of the cell phone straps, can be bought outright for 500-650 yen. Other items, like the cigarette lighter, the beer glass and the laminated character cards, are only available when you trade in filled-up points cards. 1000 yen per point, 10 points per card. 5 cards for the beer glass, 10 for the lighter.


Summary:
Name: JAM
Location: Just north of the Mandarake used manga store, west of Chuu-ou Dori, north of Kanda Myojin Dori.
Price: Moderate. Entrees are around 800 yen, soft drinks around 500, mixed alcoholic drinks between 800 and 1000 yen. Desserts around 600 yen.
Cover: None.
Food: Standard curry rice, omelet rice, pastas and "hamburg steak" (hamburger patty with sauce) sets; desserts; and soft drinks. They have a full bar, and is the only place I've seen that offers Chimay.
Service: Friendly and willing to chat with the customers.
"Love": No "added flavor" chants. I didn't see anything written on the food. No games against the maids.
Outfits: Dark blue dress, white apron and lace trim, dark blue knee stockings. Outfits may change for specific events (like Christmas).
Photos: No maid photos. Laminated character pictures, and various other branded goods, available when you fill in the points card
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: This is an Irish (loosely) themed bar that serves some food.
Recommendation: This is one of the more reasonably priced maid cafes, but the focus is on the mixed drinks, sake and beer. As mentioned above, they carry Chimay. This is a friendly location where people come in to sit, talk and have a few drinks. Recommended.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Moe Sham

"Moe Sham" is a maid-themed hair stylist shop towards the north-west corner of Akihabara, a little past Candy Fruit Optical. I haven't gone inside, but it is fairly well documented on youtube, including a video that the maids released themselves. The website carries an event calendar, a price list, photos of the maids and a blog by the maids.

By western standards, it's pricey, at 2,000 yen for a shampoo ($20) or 5,000 yen for a man's haircut, but by Japanese standards this is probably about average (some salons charge 8,000 yen for a men's stylist). Keep in mind, too, that you're being attended to by maids! ;-)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Review: MIA Cafe

If you look at the wikipedia entry under maid cafes, you'll see that it's a subset of cosplay cafes, where the serving staff dress up in costumes for one reason or another. The maid uniforms are then just a costume and the staff are just acting out the characters, as would someone in a batman or spiderman outfit.



MIA Cafe, AKA: Maids in Angels, is one of the cafes that fully embraces "cosplay" as a lifestyle, rather than simply as a marketing gimmick. Among their several location, there is MIA Costume, where you can rent various outfits and wear them, and MIA Studio, which is a photo studio you can get your pictures taken at in costume. MIA Cafe has a small selection of character costumes (sailor dresses, red sequin tops, etc.) for rent. However, the main draw is that the staff all wear outfits linked to a specific showcased anime for a few weeks before switching to the next show.

This was the case when I visited this week. The highlighted anime was "Pia Carrot e Yokoso" (Welcome to Pia Carrot), and it was playing on the TV over the serving counter. "Pia Carrot" tells the story of staff that work in different cafes within the Pia Carrot chain, and in at least one episode, the female staff all wear an off-the-shoulder lime green jacket with detached green sleeves, green skirt and white trim. This is the outfit that the MIA Cafe maids were wearing as well. And believe me, it's a very cute costume in real life.

As implied above, Maids in Angels consists of several shops located on the western edge of Akihabara, along Kanda Myojin Dori (go out the north exit from JR Akihabara station, walk to the street in front of the UDX building, turn left and go past Chuu-ou Dori to the next major intersection and the MIA shops will be in this rough general area to your right). MIA Cafe and MIA Relax are kitty corner from the Coco's Curry shop at the intersection of Kanda Myojin Dori and Tsumakoika (the Kanda Myojin Shita signal) in the same building. The cafe is on the second floor, and Relax is on floor 4. Relax is a "reflexology" location specializing in back and foot massages (strictly non-sexual), with the staff also in cosplay outfits.



MIA Cafe has kind of a homey atmosphere, with light wood paneling, a split-level floor and a scattering of tables, chairs and benches for about 20 people. The floor is fairly narrow, with benches on one side and the costume display on the other, the kitchen and TV at the back of the shop and a more open sitting area in front of the windows at the other end (the smoking area is if front of the windows). Fliers and advertisements for the food litter the walls. The staff when I was there couldn't speak English and there was no English menu. However, the menu has some pictures and there are more pictures of the food on the walls.

The menu is available online if you want to check it out in advance. There's a separate lunch menu. For dinner, they have the standard curry rice, rice omelet, pasta and spaghetti and soft drink items. The hamburg steak list consists of a cup of soup, rice, and a hamburger patty with a sauce topping of your choice (meat sauce, mustard sauce, etc.). They also have salads, desserts, beer and some mixed drinks. I got a hamburg steak with white cream sauce and an ice coffee. The food serving isn't all that big, but there's enough rice to take the edge off my hunger, and the cream sauce on the hamburger patty was pretty good. Unfortunately, the rice was a litte dried out and the soup didn't have much favor. The coffee was good. Entire meal came to 1,400 yen ($14), which is pretty reasonable for a maid cafe.



I didn't ask if I could take a photo of the food, but no one else had taken a camera out either and the food didn't look all that interesting, so I didn't bother with it. You can't simply buy a maid photo - this seems to be a growing trend in the cafes I've visited lately; you can only get a maid photo by filling up their points card. 500 per point, and it's a 40-point card.

I was greeted with the standard "welcome home, master", guided to a table, and given a menu. At the time, I was the only customer and there were 3 maids on staff. However, it was right at the shift change and they dropped to two maids. A short time later, the cafe got busy with several 4-person groups coming in, and the service slowed down as a result. Mostly, it was just salarymen but two of the customers were middle-aged office women. I didn't see the maids drawing on the food, and there was no "added flavor chant", but the maids are very careful about properly arranging the silverware around the drinks and plates, and they do pour the milk and sugar for you if you order coffee or tea. When I left, I was followed out by "please take care, master".


(Coaster)

Overall, it was a pleasant experience and I liked the Pia Carrot cosplay. It was also fun being able to watch anime during the meal. The food was ok, and not too over-priced. Can't say how crowded MIA Cafe gets during lunch, but it was starting to get packed during dinner when I left.


Summary:
Name: MIA Cafe
Location: Near the Kanda Myojin Shita intersection west of Chuu-ou Dori, on Kanda Myojin Dori.
Price: Moderate. Entrees are around 800 yen, soft drinks around 500, mixed alcoholic drinks between 800 and 1000 yen. Desserts around 500 yen.
Cover: None.
Food: Standard curry rice, omelet rice, pastas and "hamburg steak" (hamburger patty with sauce) sets; desserts; salads; soft drinks and some alcoholic drinks.
Service: Friendly, but during the evening in the middle of the week they may be a little under staffed. Not overly chatty with the customers.
"Love": No "added flavor" chants. I didn't see anything written on the food. No games against the maids.
Outfits: This is a cosplay cafe, so the outfits may change based on the featured anime of the week.
Photos: When you fill a points card.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: This is a cosplay cafe. Costumes available for rental. Anime showing on the TV on one wall.
Recommendation: This is one of the more reasonably priced maid cafes, and the maids dress up in cosplay based on the featured anime of the week. And, the maids are very cute. The location is a bit off the beaten path, near the west edge of the Akihabara district, so the streets are not quite as crowded. Recommended if you want to sit down, rest and watch anime for a while.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Power ups



One of my recommendations when visiting a maid cafe for the first time is to make sure you get their points card. Even if you never go back there again, the card makes for a nice souvenir and some of the cards have good artwork on them.


(Popopure)

However, if you do plan on revisiting a specific cafe, you may want to make it the one with the better points system. So far, the cards I've seen break down into two categories - point per visit (@Home) and point per yen spent (pretty much everyone else). Most of the points per yen cards give you one point per 1000 yen, though Popopure, Little TGV and the Maid Club gift shop are 1 per 500 yen. But, generally you get two points if it's a "rain day" or if there's some kind of event taking place then. Unfortunately, with a cafe like Pinafore, it seems like you have to spend more per point as you get closer to filling up the card, since they give out points arbitrarily.


(Pinafore)

The question then becomes "who has the best card?" That's not an easy question to answer (since the glib response is "none of them"). Nagomi gives you a free drink if you fill the card, but that comes to roughly $400 to get a $10 drink. Pinafore gives you a free maid photo, which for me took about $100 to fill the card. Popopure is a lot better; 10 points gives you a small poster and a dessert, 20 points is a drink and a maid photo, and 50 points is the cafe's anime DVD. With Mononope, 40 points gives you a free maid photo, and every card you fill up lops 100 yen off the cover price per visit.


(Maid Club, a maid-themed souvenir shop.)

In contrast, @Home has what at first glance looks to be the best system. It's 1 point per visit. At 5 points, you go from a bronze card to silver. This reduces the cover from 700 yen to 600 per visit. At 50 points, you get the gold card, a free maid photo, and it looks like each photo will be with 2 maids of your choice instead of just 1. Plus, the cover drops to 500 yen. Then there's the Crystal card at 200 points, Platinum at 500 points and Black at 2000 points, with the variety of perks going up at each level. Black is supposedly a mythical level and the perks aren't listed on the website. (I can see why it's mythical - even if you only go during the last half of the month, that's 1000 visits, and a minimum of $8000 US. If you spread it out, it's going to take 3-5 years. You get this card only if you REALLY, REALLY, REALLY like maids. Or, if you're trying to show off.)


(Mononopu)

The only upside to the @Home system, given that the cover price is what kills you, is that it doesn't matter what you buy when you get inside. Available during the summer, shaved ice at Hana is 450 yen, while one of the other desserts is the same price. 500 yen for a maid photo. So, once you get to silver level, it's about $10.50-$11 for per point per visit if all you're trying to do is level up. Fortunately, if you go during the last half of the month, it's 2 points per visit.


(@Home)

In terms of getting stuff in return for becoming a frequent visitor to any given cafe, Popopure and @Home have the better cards. On the other hand, you're not getting any bargains here and it's just cheaper to pay the few dollars to buy the present directly if you're being budget conscious (if you're being really tight-fisted, then you won't go to a maid cafe in the first place).


(Gentoukan)

But, if the idea is that you want a place where you can sit down, eat a dessert, and kill an hour staring at women in maid dresses, then picking the place with the best points card is a plus factor, if you only want to frequent one cafe. In this case, pick a place without a cover charge, like Popopure.



Granted, I've only visited a fraction of the 30-plus cafes that I have addresses for, but as of today, I have to say that @Home is the one I'm most focused on. I'll probably stop at the Gold card, unless I can start turning Maid Runner into a for-profit review site. Then again, @Home only gives 1 point per visit during the first half of the month, and 2 points in the second half, so right now, I'm not trying to fill up any of the cards I have.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Review: Cure Maid Cafe

The wikipedia entry on maid cafes lists Cure Maid as the first such cafe to open in Japan, giving the date as March, 2001. According to their own events calendar, Cure Maid is celebrating their 8th anniversary on Sept. 12.



Cure Maid does not have the "welcome home, master" chant, the "added flavor" chant, games against the maids or even maid photos. So how have they managed to outlast the competition?

In essence, Cure Maid is like arriving at an old hotel in England, sitting in the lobby and having crumpets and tea. The refined atmosphere - from ankle-length maid's dresses to the lace curtains on the windows, the deferential bow when the maid approaches or leaves the table, the tea time snack service, from the old dark woodwork to the little candles on the table - all contribute to the sense that you're not in Akihabara any more.

To enter Cure Maid, you walk through the capsule ball toy figure shop on the ground floor. At the back, to the right, is the elevator. Take it to the 6th floor. Here, you have a pamphlet rack to the right advertising various t-shirts and anime, the cash register just past that, and to the left the service counter with the dessert display, coffee pots and a line of 8-10 jars holding different loose teas. As mentioned above, the walls are paneled with dark wood, and there are booths and wooden chairs and tables to handle the standard 30 people.



The hours are generally 11 AM to 10 PM. Lunch is from 11 to 3 PM; tea from 3 to 5; and dinner from 5 to closing. The two main meals include the standard pasta, rice and fried dishes plus desserts and hard and soft drinks. Tea Time includes cookies, waffles, ice cream, teas and light cakes. I arrived at 6 PM, so I ordered the Cure Maid Original dinner plate (2 fried shrimp, a salad, 3 meat balls, spiced red rice and milk pudding) and a Viennese coffee (a small cup of hot, strong coffee with sweetened whipped cream on top). The dinner plate was good, but a little on the small side. The milk pudding was unique - I'd never considered milk to be a pudding flavor before, but it was good. The entire set came to 1200 yen ($12), which is cheap, compared to @Home or Little TGV. The only disappointment was that they don't offer maid photos. Fortunately, they do let you photograph the food.

The maids are very polite, bowing when they arrive at the table, and again when they leave. They're willing to answer questions, and they can speak a little English (although the menus are primarily in Japanese only). They're pretty much what you'd expect to find in a British mansion if you were ever invited over for a spot of hunting and pint of bitter afterwards (happens to me all the time).

But, make no mistake, Cure Maid knows that to stay in business they need to partner with anime and video game companies. The first part of September had a tie-in with Full Metal Alchemist, and they have various food- and cosplay-events throughout the year. They also have a live classical music concert every Saturday from 7:20 to 9 PM. They're very big on European classical music, which plays in the background as you eat.


(Paper coaster.)

The cash register displays various branded products, from their signature tea to coffee cups, a small maid outfit with or without the doll, collectors cards, teapots and bags of vanilla cookies. I did get a bag of cookies on the way out, making my total 1,700 yen (the cookies are kind of dry and dusty tasting, but go well with milk).

I didn't see any mention of a points card and the cashier didn't offer one. However, they do have a members club, called the "Tea Time Supporters Club" - details are available online. The website has the events calendar, concert information, the menus, an online store and lots of links to cosplay shops.

I should mention that at least half the customers were women, in groups of 2 and 4. The relaxed, refined atmosphere is a big draw. In terms of a simple sit down meal with lots of class, Cure Maid is the best maid cafe I've been to so far. The prices are reasonable for a maid cafe, there's no cover charge, and I enjoyed the food and coffee (especially the coffee).


Summary:
Name: Cure Maid Cafe
Location: West side of Chuu-ou Dori, 5 blocks north of the JR Akihabara station.
Price: Moderate.
Cover: No cover.
Food: A wide selection of pasta, rice and other dishes, with lunch, tea time and dinner services. Dinner entries are 900-1000 yen, and soft drinks are just 200 yen more as part of the set. Alcoholic drinks are 500 to 1000 yen. Cure Maid has a heavy emphasis on British-style tea breaks.
Service: The staff are incredibly polite and helpful, but not prone to chatting up the diners.
"Love": No special writing on the dishes or "added flavor" chants.
Outfits: Long dark blue dresses with white aprons and frills.
Photos: No maid photos here.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: This is a simple restaurant setting designed for people that want to sit, relax, listen to classical music and have a nice cup of tea.
Recommendation: Cure Maid Cafe doesn't resort to gimmicks or cheap tricks to entertain the customers. Basically, this is a nice place to come, sit down, relax and chat with friends. There's no cover charge, the food is good and the prices are reasonable (for a maid cafe). Highly recommended.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Kakigori

Most countries have shops that sell shaved or crushed ice desserts during the summer. In Texas, they're called snowballs. What's interesting is comparing the styles of snow cones in the U.S. and Japan.

The typical snow cone in the U.S. consists of a paper or plastic cup of crushed ice drenched in syrup to the point where the bottom third of the cup is a melted ice-syrup slurry. There may be 20 flavors of syrups, and the shop may combine them to make their own "recipes", as well as top the snow cone with condensed milk or cream. It's very high-calorie, very sweet, and the only purpose of the ice is to keep the syrup cold as you're drinking it through a straw.

Most Japanese university students visiting the U.S. dislike the amount of syrup used in snow cones, and they confuse the shop operators by asking for less syrup, generally called "painting the top", or as I put it "Japanese lite". The shop operators can't understand why someone would pay $1.50 for a syrup and ice drink and then not want the syrup. Another complaint that the Japanese have is that the ice is packed too hard and when the syrup makes it melt, the ice refreezes into a big chunk that is too difficult to eat.

In contrast, kakigori (kaki = shaved, kori = ice) takes two forms in Japan = flakes and powder. The common factor is that the shop operator places the bowl under the machine and just lets the ice fall into place. There's a lot of air in with the ice, making the dessert fluffier, and the ice crackles and pops on your tongue as you eat it with a spoon. One restaurant serves flake-style kakigori that's a good 10-12" tall in the bowl, with red azuki beans in the center and around the edge of the bowl, and a green tea syrup, for $8. There is a fair amount of syrup which makes a soup at the bottom, but you're still expected to eat it with a spoon rather than with a straw.

@Home Hana serves the powdered ice style, painted on top, for $4.50, during the summer. This is a moderately-sized bowl with very cold, very finely-shaved ice particles, and one of 4 syrups (there are daily special flavors, like grape or mango). About half of the ice is unflavored and as you eat it, it's just the flavor of water. But, the key here is the texture of the ice on your tongue. It's like eating falling snow during the summer. And, if you just came in off the streets, you're probably hot, sweating, and in need of cooling down. Powder snow feels pretty good then. There's just enough syrup flavoring to be interesting, but if you're budget-conscious, you're really going to feel like you're being ripped off.

Hana normally serves strawberry, melon, lemon, and green tea kakigori. I mention this because if you are only visiting @Home in order to level up your members card, then you want the cheapest things on the menu, and the kakigori, which is only available at Hana, is one of the cheapest desserts they have. My favorite so far is a toss-up between the strawberry and lemon. But, it's only available during the hot months, so hurry before the kakigori season ends.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Review: Little TGV

Little TGV is owned by the same group that has Little BSD, Little MSN and Little PSX. Little PSX is in the same building, 3rd floor, and Little BSD is across the street. The common theme is that these are bars that serve some food.



Train chasing is very popular in Japan, and people standing at the end of a platform taking photos of incoming trains is a common sight. A few weeks ago, when one of the older trains was retired, hundreds of people gathered to take one last ride and get photos of it. The event was covered on the evening news. Music CDs have been released with songs aimed at train chasers. So, it's not surprising that a train chaser cafe would open in Akihabara.

Little TGV is dedicated to the fans of Japanese trains. The serving staff (not really "maids" per se) wear lime green train uniforms, or white sailor dresses. The cafe has dark wood paneling, with wooden benches, tables and chairs for holding about 30 people. Mostly, the seating is for 4-person groups but the atmosphere is of a coffee shop in a 1940's-era station. The walls are lined with transportation maps, photos and signs from different stations. A table is set up in one corner with an N-gauge track running through hills and over bridges. When I was there, though, the train wasn't running. A TV on one wall played a DVD showing some of the maids riding on the trains, and various views of bullet trains. The kitchen is open to the dining area so you can watch the food as it's made.


(Notice the train sign on the door that says "tetsudo izakaya" - "train chaser pub".)

TGV does serve lunch, and the hours are noon to 4 PM. But, this is primarily a bar, open from 6 PM to 11 PM (closed from 4 to 6 PM). More correctly, this is an izakaya, where groups of office workers gather to drink. The foods tend to be small plates of fried items and you pay per plate (fried oysters, chicken on skewers, fried onion, and the like at 400 to 500 yen per plate). The drinks include some sodas, beer, mixed drinks and a couple "house specials" that are shaken by the serving staff at your table. The menu is designed to look like a version of the Tokyo Yamanote, Chuu-ou, Sobu line map, and all of the items are named after various train lines. If you can't read kanji, just look at the pictures. During the evening, only the fried foods (the A line) plus salads and desserts (D line) are available.


(5 tickets gets you a free drink; 10 gets you a free food item.)

There's a 500 yen cover to get inside, and you receive a ticket when you enter. A staff member comes by and punches the ticket at your table. I ordered two ginger ales, a plate of 5-6 fried oysters and a plate of 2 big cream croquets. The sodas arrived quickly, but the food took a while to prepare. The oysters were heavily breaded, fried dark brown, crisp and juicy. The cream croquets were molten little fried cheese bombs that had a potato-cheese flavor, and hot enough to do searing damage. With the cover, everything came to 2,630 yen ($27). It was filling for one person, but the cost does add up fast.

Next to the cash register, there's a small goods shop that primarily sells music CDs from some of the maids. I can't find an online shop from their website.

I was greeted with a "welcome" chant when I entered, and a "take care" chant when I left. Unlike other maid cafes, there was no "added flavor" chant when the food or drinks arrived, and I didn't see any mention of challenging the maids to board or card games. Since the curry rice is only served during lunch, I couldn't tell if anything gets written on it. The only gimmick phrase was when the sauce was poured on the croquet from a squeeze bottle; the server called out "departing from the station" and when there was enough sauce, I had to called out "arriving at the station" (in Japanese, of course).

The staff is very friendly, and they wander around the room, chatting to the customers for a few minutes each. There's a small book case with train books, maps and manga, and the conversation usually starts out with "what are you reading?" (The answer is generally "a train map".) Since my Japanese is still pretty limited, my conversations don't tend to last long.

I enjoyed my meal, and the cafe is definitely nothing like the run-of-the-mill maid cafes elsewhere in Akihabara. But, like most maid cafes, it is more expensive than going to a regular izakaya, and the setting encourages you to arrive in a large group for an extended drinking session.


(Point card.)

Little TGV has a points card, which seems to be the only way to get a maid photo. It's 500 yen per point, and if you fill one 40-point card, you get the photo. 2 cards and you get a special emblem. 20 cards and you get an "NAER Tour" item. Since it's $200 for a maid photo you can get elsewhere for $5, the only reason for filling up the card is because this has become your favorite drinking party bar.

Summary:
Name: Little TGV
Location: 2 blocks west of Chuu-ou Dori, 1 block south of Kuramaebashi Dori. 4th floor.
Price: Moderately high.
Cover: 500 yen cover.
Food: The lunch menu includes the standard pastas, curry rice and omelet rice, plus some desserts and salads. But, this is more of an izakaya (bar with finger food) and the evening menu just consists of small plates of fried dishes like fried oysters, shrimp and the like, plus the desserts. The small plates are in the 400-500 yen range each. Drinks are 500 to 800 yen.
Service: Friendly and attentive. But, you need to be able to speak Japanese to carry on conversations.
"Love": No special chants or drawings on the foods in the evening. Can't comment on the lunch meals.
Outfits: A mix of lime green conductor's dresses, and white sailor dresses.
Photos: Only available when you fill up a points card.
Wireless Internet: Yes.
Specialties: The entire cafe is made up in a train chaser theme, with menu items named after various train lines; DVDs playing on the TV on one wall showing maids on the trains, or just general footage of bullet trains. A small N-gauge train set on a big table in one corner, with tracks running through hills and past towns and lakes. Izakaya setting.
Recommendation: If you're a fan of trains, and like photographing all of the stations on one line, this is the place for you. Popular with groups that want to sit down, drink and talk, as with any izakaya. If you want a full meal, come during lunch. Otherwise, dinner is just going to be alcohol and greasy finger food.