Thursday, January 28, 2010

Review: St. Grace Court

Golgo13_sniper requested this one, so here it is.

St. Grace Court is unusual in several ways. Now, "unusual" pretty much fits many maid cafes anyway, because they tend to look for themes that make them stand out from each other. St. Grace Court is an exception primarily because it's not located within the main Akihabara boundaries. Instead, it's at the outskirts on the south side of Kanda river. To find it, exit the Akihabara JR station for Denki Town, head west to Chuu-ou Dori, and turn left. Cross the Kanda river, then take the first left, the first right and the first left again. It's just behind the big steak restaurant, in the middle of the block on the left.

The next exception is the theme. This time, we have a "church" dedicated to Akihabara. Normally, the "sisters" are dressed in blue frocks, and the "dansou" (women as butlers) are dressed up as priests. However, this evening they were in the middle of a tie-in event with "Pia Carrot Yokoso", and the maids were in cosplay as characters from the anime.

There's a small smoking space on the first floor, just large enough to hold about 10 people. A staircase to one side leads to the main dining area in the basement. The ground floor walls are white and lined with posters. The basement is more somber, with purple walls, and dimmer lighting. Posters line one wall, pictures of the "sisters" are on another wall along with a cross, and a third wall shows the glossy photos - known in Japan as "bromides" available for sale. The fourth wall has tableware, glasses, and a small fridge with beer and soft drinks.

(Bromide of a maid in cosplay.)

The menus are in Japanese, but one or two of the maids can speak some English. The entrees include curries, pastas and hamburg steaks, in the 900-1500 yen range. Drinks are 300 yen if you get an entree or dessert. Desserts are 600-800 yen. Right now, they have set meal specials for 1400 to 1600 yen that includes a "cream stew poured over a hamburg steak" and a bromide photo. Bromide sets do not allow for a set drink (i.e. - soft drinks are full price). I got the bromide set hamburg steak, with water on the side. The steak had a cream sauce on top, and a small salad on the side, for 1450 yen. It was tasty, but not quite filling enough, so I also got a chocolate sponge cake for 600 yen. The cake was good, but with all of the whipped cream, was about 50% air. The entire night came to 2050 yen.

There were 2 customers on the first floor, and 6 in the basement. Most were salarymen, but one woman arrived who really seemed to be enjoying herself. The staff chatted to some of the regulars, but only for a few minutes at a time. In my case, though, they were willing to talk as long as I wanted. One maid was particularly friendly and a lot of fun to talk to. So I asked her about the shop, etc. Normally, they don't have maid photos, just the bromides. Maid photos are available randomly on certain event nights. They do have a points card, but it's 1500 yen per point, making it the priciest one I've seen so far. Cards can be redeemed for branded goods like coffee cups and saucers.

Overall, I enjoyed myself a lot. St. Grace Court is an interesting place, if you don't take the theme too seriously. It's kind of like some of the manga on the market. And, the prices are reasonable.

Name: St. Grace Court
Location: The other side of the Kanda river from the Akihabara station. Cross the river at Chuu-ou Dori, take the first left, the first right and the first left again. On the left in the middle of the block, 1st floor.
Price: Moderate
Cover: No cover.
Food: Pastas, curries and hamburg steaks from 900 to 1500 yen, soft drinks and beer, and desserts for 600-800 yen.
"Love": No special chants or greetings. No writing on the food.
Outfits: Blue nun-style frocks.
Photos: Bromides of the maids only. Maid photos only during certain random events.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: A "religious"-themed cafe with "sisters" and "priests". During certain tie-ins with games or anime, the maids will dress up in cosplay for that show or game.
Recommendation: Highly recommended. The prices are reasonable (for a maid cafe), the staff is friendly and talkative and the food is good.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Men as maids

This is kind of a dangerous subject, since it's so open to ridicule, but we might as well allow for equal opportunity. Men playing female roles has been a long and honored tradition in European theater, and in Kabuki. The reverse also exists but not for as long, with the all-female cast of Takarazuka playing both the male and female roles. When it comes to maid cafes, the Dansou cafes have women dressing up as butlers, and there's also the "little brother" cafes with an all-female staff. Finally, okama bars, or transvestite bars, have been popular in Tokyo for a while as well.

The Japan times recently ran a story on Hibari-tei, an okama maid cafe.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Review: Filles

Filles is a games and conversation space that doubles as a cafe, and its approach is fairly unique. It is a fun place to hang out for a while, but it can get expensive quickly if you let it. Filles is located just west of Chuu-ou Dori, at the north end, across the street from Usagi Jinja, on the 4th floor of the building that has Mai Dreamin' 1.

The room is spacious by Akihabara standards, and well-lit, with 3 four-person tables and about 10 spaces at the counter. There's a dart board at one end, wood and glass cases holding coffee cups and board games behind the counter, and anime figures scattered around the shelves along the walls. It looks like an odd cross between a tea room and someone's living room.

The system is simple. You pay 1500 yen to enter. This let's you stay for 90 minutes, and gives you 1 free soft drink and one maid game. Additional soft drinks are between 300 and 400 yen, and more maid games are 1000 yen each for 3 rounds. Maid photos are 1000 yen each. They do serve food, which includes the standard curries, pastas and hamburg steaks, at 600-700 yen, but no one was eating while I was there. I ordered an ice coffee. Because I really didn't know how the system would work, I held off on getting food, and since no one else was eating either, I can't comment on the entries. In any event, any food you do order will be on top of the 1500 yen entry fee.

There's the standard "welcome home, master" greeting when you enter, and they have an English rules card to explain the system. Once you agree to it, they'll lead you to an empty chair at the counter (or to a table for groups of 3 or 4) and take out a hot towel to clean your hands for you. When seated, you can get an English menu and place your drink order. For ice or hot coffee, one of the maids will pour in the sugar and cream and stir the cup for you. Fortunately, they don't go so far as to actually drink the coffee for you, but I expect that they could if you ask politely.

There were about 6-7 customers when I arrived, all male, and most of them dressed up as young salarymen, with one or two in plain street clothes. One group of three guys played a version of "leaning tower" with circular wooden disks. I've never seen this game before so I don't know what it's called. Each disk has a hole near the rim, and the numbers 1-6 printed on one side. Each player rolls a die, then takes the top disk from the stack and lines the hole up with the number rolled for the next disk of the tower. This makes for a very unstable tower and the loser is the one that makes it collapse. Down at the other end of the counter, someone else was playing UNO. The maids kept winning, so I don't know the the prize was for the customers.

There were 3 maids in the cafe at any one time, with one more outside handing out fliers. The inside maids were all very friendly and spent time moving around and carrying on conversations with everyone. For my part, we talked about anime and manga, learning English and where to visit in the U.S. My maid was planning a trip to New York in March, and continuing on to London, and wanted to know about interesting places to see in the States. She's also a cosplayer and a big fan of Soul Eater. When I told her I like Soul Eater, she squealed and ran to get this one book. Turns out that at events like Comic Market, cosplayers can pose for a professional photographer to have their photo included in an annual catalog. She and two other maids had dressed up as Medusa, Chronos and Eruka in hand-made costumes that were very impressive. She looked just like Eruka.

Some of the maids can speak a little English, but they're much happier with Japanese. They told me that they get groups of westerners fairly regularly, and don't really know what to do with them for conversations. So, they're happy if you visit, but you're going to get the most out of your stay if you can speak Japanese.

Since I had to get to work, after 45 minutes I stood up to leave, and one of the other maids discovered that there was still a poker chip inside the jacket holding my bill, meaning that I hadn't collected yet on my free game. I said that I still had a couple of minutes, so she ran to get what I think is called "wani wane" (alligator trap). This is the one where you press down on the teeth of the alligator and the loser is the one that makes it's mouth close. I won the first round but lost the remaining 2. Being the loser, I had to wear a pair of cat ears for the rest of my stay, which happily wasn't that long. The maids are willing to take your photo for you with your own camera.

I was trying to keep my costs down this time (plus 1000 yen for a maid photo is too pricey for me) so I didn't get a separate maid photo. The total came to 1500 yen for just the initial entry fee. There is a points card; 1 point per visit, but I can't see anything saying what you get for a filled card.

Name: Filles
Location: Across the street from Usagi no Jinja, on the 4th floor of the same building as Mai Dreamin' 1, at the north end of Chuu-ou Dori.
Price: Moderate to high, depending on how many games you play.
Cover: 1500 lets you stay 90 minutes, and gives you one soft drink and one maid game.
Food: Standard curries, pastas and hamburg steaks for 600 yen. Additional soft drinks for 300, and cakes for 300 yen.
"Love": Standard greetings when you arrive and leave. Maids add sugar and cream to your coffee and stir it for you. No added flavor chants.
Outfits: Black dress with white apron and lace frills.
Photos: 1000 yen.
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: Mini games and conversation. The maids try to spend equal time talking to everyone. You get three rounds of some game (first game is free, subsequent games are 1000 yen each), such as wani wane and UNO.
Recommendation: Although Filles can get expensive fast, if you're just there to talk, play one game and have something to drink, it's not that bad. And, it is a fun space to hang out for 90 minutes for only 1500 yen. Recommended.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Maid non-cafes, Part 13 - Conversation

Just when I've thought that I'd covered all of the non-cafe maid locations in Akihabara, I find one more. This is a never-ending job, just simply listing these places. Unless someone starts paying me for this service, I'm never going to be able to visit all of them for review purposes.

Cute Room is a conversation space. You pay about 4000 yen ($45 USD) to sit and talk to a girl wearing the uniform of your choice for about 40 minutes. While Tokyo does have some places for sex (AKA - soap lands) this doesn't seem to be one of them. There's a menu of uniforms to choose from, plus of course a list of girls. Essentially, this is a cosplay version of a hostess bar, but without the inflated drink prices and you're not surrounded by a crowd of noisy drunks.

You're taking your chances here, but if the idea is that you want to pick up a girl, you're better off going to a regular bar in Roppongi. You're odds are better and it'd probably cost the same in terms of buying beer. On the other hand, the website doesn't show pictures of the shop or the staff, and that may be an indication of the kind of place they're running.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Review: Pinky Cafe, 3F

Having visited 2F last week, I decided that I'd follow up with 3F this time. But I'd realized that I'd forgotten the points card and changed my plans to go to Cute Room on the 4th floor instead. Then, when I got to Cute Room, I found out that it's actually a conversation lounge - you're paying to sit around and just talk for a while for $40. So, 3F it was.

Pinky Cafe, 3F is very similar to the location on the 2nd floor. The primary difference is that about half of the seating area is taken up with a small wooden stage and a DJ booth. So, there are only seven 2-person tables and 5 seats at the counter. Otherwise, 3F also is a 50's-style burger joint.

One major word of warning - the cover charge can kill you here. I really should rephrase this - all maid cafes that charge an hourly rate (or for every 90 minutes) refer to this as a "table charge". Normally, the table charge is based on when you enter, and let's you stay for 60 to 90 minutes (depending on the cafe). Stay longer than that and you have to pay for another 60-90 minutes. I wasn't really sure what I was being told when I came into Pinkys 3F, but it had something to do with my arriving at 5:50 PM and there only being 10 minutes left in the hour. Later, I learned that Pinky's was charging "ON the hour" NOT "per hour". So, even though I was only there 50 minutes, I still had to pay 1000 yen in table charges. Definitely NOT worth it. But, in their defense, the maid did try to warn me up front.

Well, if 2F and 3F are almost the same, why write up a separate entry? Other than to chew up space, that is...

The answer is that having the stage does give them a chance to do some song performances, although that didn't happen while I was there. What did happen was that one of the customers ordered a rocket cocktail. Pinkys has a tendency to serve drinks in weird glasses, but for the rocket cocktail, the shaker is shaped like a rocket. When it was brought out, another maid started up the Astro Boy theme song on the PA system, and as that played all of us were asked to join in clapping and repeating the chant yelled by the maid as she shook the drink. At the end, she raised the shaker like a launching rocket and then poured the drink out. While it only filled up 2/3 of the glass (which the customer complained about) he did say that it tasted good.

For my part, I decided to get the don-burger set this time, with smiley potatoes and hot coffee for 1350 yen, plus a maid photo for another 500 yen (with the table charge it came to 2850 yen, or $32 USD). "Donburi" just refers to any food served in a bowl. Gyuu-don (beef bowl) is generally boiled beef and onions on top of a bowl of rice. With the don-burger, Pinkys took a toasted bun, cut it into quarters and put it on the bottom of the bowl. They then lined the bowl with lettuce, piled in the sliced beef and sauteed onions and topped it with the other half of the toasted and quartered bun. You're expected to eat it with chopsticks. It was pretty tasty and filling, but the 1000 yen table charge wiped out any value you would have gotten from the serving size.

The hot coffee was served in a heart-shaped cup - it looked good, but tasted thin and bitter. Pinkys does NOT know how to make good coffee. You're better off getting the beer or other soft drinks.

The one thing that you have to discard when you walk into a maid cafe, especially if you're going to get a maid photo, is any sense of self-respect that you may have had. When I went up on the stage for the photo, the maid pulled out the rabbit ears and told me to "pull a rabbit face with hands pose". This resulted in all the maids shrieking "kawaii kawaii". I guess there's a reason why none of the other customers got a maid photo that night.

There were 10 customers while I was there, all male, and mostly young salarymen, but with a couple older guys in casual street clothes. One of the older guys actually gave off a harley biker vibe. The maids were friendly, but mostly too busy for just standing around and chatting. On the PA they played a mix of hard rock, Japanese death metal and light j-pop. And, it turns out that Pinky's has its own "maid info channel", a little TV studio on the first floor where they record the maids doing promos for the cafe, which is then run on a loop on the screens facing the street downstairs as well as in the cafe itself. Doesn't look like anyone actually watches the maid info channel, though.

Bottom line: I inherently dislike places that have table charges, since the food and drinks are already over-priced compared to regular restaurants. One argument has been made that the table charges are intended to discourage homeless people from hanging out all day and not buying anything, but other cafes get around this by requiring a 1-drink minimum per hour. My feeling is that table charges are just one way to make up for a lack of customers, which jacks the price up and in turn keeps people from coming back. Anyway, I don't like Pinky's approach to charging on the hour. If you want a burger in a maid cafe, Pinkys has good burgers. Just be careful of when you arrive. (If you want a really good burger cheap, go somewhere else.)

Name: Pinky Cafe, 3F
Location: Go north on Chuu-ou Dori to the streetlight in front of the Donkey building. Take the side street west 1.5 short block. It's on the left, in the T&K Akiba Building.
Price: Moderate
Cover: 500 yen lets you stay 1 hour, starting on the hour.
Food: Mostly hamburgers, with some desserts, soft drinks and mixed drinks.
"Love": Standard greetings and added flavor chants.
Outfits: Red skirt and jacket.
Photos: 500 yen
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: Pinky has two cafes, on the second and third floors of the building. 3F has a cabaret stage, but both floors are primarily hamburger shops.
Recommendation: Pinky 3F doesn't really have any single elements that stand out, but there is a sense of fun throughout. From the posters showing the maid transforming from moe to greedy hamburger eater, to the interactions between the maids themselves, Pinky is an interesting place to hang out. I would recommend it except because of the excessive cover charges.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Maid non-cafes, part 12 - Misc

Ok, time to wrap this up. I'm running out of non-cafe spaces to comment on, and this is all that's left. Again, I'm not reviewing these places, just letting you know they exist in case you want to visit them.

Akiba Women’s Dorm Main Building Relaxation Space

I'm assuming that "relaxation space" just means a place with tables where you can hang out and drink coffee with women wearing pajamas. If I'm wrong, send me some photos and let me know.

Akiba Celestial Sphere (DJ Cafe)

Maids spinning tunes. What will they think of next? No, really, I want to know, what WILL they think of next? Although, the website for "Tenkyu" does seem to be closer to a song and dance stage ala Itchome Theater. I may have to visit Tenkyu/Celestial Sphere and find out exactly what it is. Ah, decisions, decisions....

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Review: Pinky Cafe

I have a list of maid cafes that I have been able to track down in Akihabara. Parts of the list come from the different advertising maps that are handed out by several sources. It's not a complete list, since some of the cafes don't pay to be included on the maps, and there are always new locations opening up every few weeks. But, I was getting the feeling that the number of places left to visit had dropped down to just a handful. Then I happened to stumble on one building that has 3 more cafes in it that I hadn't known about.

Pinky Cafe has locations on both the 2nd and 3rd floors of the building. I'd visited in the middle of the afternoon on a Sunday, and there were two maids out front handing out fliers. The building is right across Chuu-ou Dori from the Donkey Building. Take Chuu-ou north from the Akihabara JR station to the first streetlight, and turn left at the side street just past the light. The T&K Akiba building is 1.5 short blocks west, on the left. I'm told that the 3rd floor has a cabaret stage, but I haven' t tried checking it out yet. The 2nd floor is kind of set up like a '50s hamburger shop, with white round tables and wire chairs for seating about 20 people, with another 8 seats at the counter. The space is brightly lit, with posters and photos of the food along the walls.

The woman working the bar had a butch/dansou character going on, while the rest of the staff were dressed up as bouncy, frilly maids in red skirts and pink jackets. There's also a "ribbon" system; instead of all of the prices being in yen, they're in "ribbons". That is, the cover charge for 60 minutes is 500 ribbons, maid photos are 500 ribbons, and so on. When you sit down, a little business card holder with a ribbon tied on it is placed on the table. As you prepare to leave, you take one end of the ribbon, the maid takes the other and you untie it to signify your departure.

The main food items are variants on hamburgers, with soft drinks (500 ribbons), beer (700 ribbons) and mixed drinks 850 ribbons on up), and cake or ice cream for desserts (650 to 850 ribbons). The maids write on the plates of the desserts in strawberry syrup. Most of the burgers are in the 800-1000 ribbon range, plus 400-600 yen for the set menus (plus a soft drink and "smile potatoes"). I decided to get the Akiba Burger set for 1250 ribbons. Along with the cover and maid photo, it was 2250 yen ($25 USD) - about normal for a maid cafe.

The ice coffee was too watery, and the "Pinky added flavor chant" didn't help it much. When the burger came out, the maid and I did the same chant again and it must have worked better, because the burger was pretty good. Essentially, it's a standard burger, with a piece of lettuce, a slice of hard-boiled egg, toasted buns, and dripping with catsup and mustard. The three little smile potatoes were an odd thing in a smiley face shape, not quite boiled and not quite fried. They were golden brown but not crispy. They definitely tasted like potato, but otherwise they left me feeling confused. They were cute, though. There are a couple versions of the added flavor chant, mostly including making a heart shape with your hands, and putting the word "pinky" into the lyrics.

There were 10 customers while I was there, consisting of a mix of punks with pierced faces, businessmen and guys just out for a beer. A couple of them drew pictures of the maids on the coasters, which were then either worn by the maids as buttons or put on the wall. At least one artist seemed to be a regular, and he turned his table into a small studio, piled with albums and utensils. More people arrived as well, but when they got off the elevator, they looked around and got back on, presumably to try checking out the third floor, or Cute Room up on the fourth.

The maid photo was pretty standard, just a heart pose. But, I like the embellishments the maid added.

There is a points card. Here, it's 1000 ribbons per point. 10 points gets you a free soft drink or beer. 50 gets you a members upgrade of some kind (presumably a fancier version of the card).

Pinky 2F is a fairly standard maid cafe, with an emphasis on the hamburgers. Not a whole lot else to say about it, though it has a constant stream of customers and the maids are friendly and willing to talk to you. At least one maid could speak some English, too. I intend to visit 3F next time to see what they've got going on up there.

Name: Pinky Cafe, 2F
Location: Go north on Chuu-ou Dori to the streetlight in front of the Donkey building. Take the side street west 1.5 short block. It's on the left, in the T&K Akiba Building.
Price: Moderate
Cover: 500 yen lets you stay 1 hour.
Food: Mostly hamburgers, with some desserts, soft drinks and mixed drinks.
"Love": Standard greetings and added flavor chants.
Outfits: White and red skirts with a pink jacket.
Photos: 500 yen
Wireless Internet: (?) (No laptops in evidence when I was there.)
Specialties: Pinky has two cafes, on the second and third floors of the building. 3F is reportedly a cabaret stage. 2F is primarily a hamburger shop.
Recommendation: Pinky 2F doesn't really have any single elements that stand out, but there is a sense of fun throughout. From the posters showing the maid transforming from moe to greedy hamburger eater, to the interactions between the maids themselves, Pinky is an interesting place to hang out. Recommended.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Maid non-cafes, part 11 - Guide Services

Sure, there are other guide companies working in Akihabara, including Akibanana. But, do you want to walk around behind some guy with no chin wearing fake yellow hair in a cheap cosplay outfit, or would you rather be seen with a pretty maid? Yeah, thought so.

I haven't tried using these companies yet, so I'm not going to try to review them. If you have taken a maid tour, please add a comment here.

Ecri (Guide)
Maid Club (Souvenirs)
@Room Service