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Feb 14, 2012 12:00 AM

Seeking Retro restaurants in Tokyo - Art Deco cafés, 1960s hotel bars, etc

Hello Chowhounds,
This is a bit of a strange request, but I figure such a knowledgeable bunch might have a few recommendations. I'm heading to Tokyo for a trip Feb 22-28, and doing a bit of research for an art project on retro architecture/design in the city - not just '60s "themed" locations, but places that are actually leftover from previous design eras and haven't been renovated to death. If you have suggestions of restaurants/bars/cafes that are interesting for this reason (even if the food/drinks are subpar), I'd be most grateful for your ideas.

Some already on my list to visit or revisit:
- Maisen in Harajuku (where the food is actually great, in my opinion, and the decor is just amazing)
- the bar of the Hotel Okura
- Classical/jazz cafés like Violon
and Meikyoku Kissa Lion

Any other ideas on 1920s classical cafés, postwar diners, 1960s jazz cafes, 1970s lounges or 1980s/bubble-era karaoke boxes? My priority is places that are historical, but if there are any noteworthy modern locations evoking these vintage eras, I'd also love to know. Thank you so much in advance!

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  1. First cafe concept on the old days... Try the Hanaya in Nippori on the vinyl seats, with some mix-offering like ramen, gyoza, omurice(omelet with rice), anmitsu(=Japanese dessert)
    After just walk down on the Dogenzaka, Nippori Nezu Yushima will have some old fashion shops.. that are in fact very charming...

      1. re: Silverjay

        There are also a bunch of Showa era cafes in back alleys in Jimbocho/ Kanda area.

        1. re: Silverjay

          I feel weird about these places since they're mostly so old that they feel dirty and not ironically retro like the kids are into these days. Here's one: and here's a ramen place that fits the bill too and wait, here's another one Now that I look back at my notes, the list in Kanda is indeed pretty long.

          The food is never as good as I want it to be though (if that's an issue). I went through a big streak of trying these places, and they're consistently disappointing. If you want the pure, old-fashioned curry or coffee or ramen, there are always young guys trying and succeeding at doing those styles better.

          Although I DO like the food at Sakaeya Milk Hole in Kanda. The outside is super-retro, very picture-worthy.

          1. re: jem589

            I don't know about food quality. I was focusing on the vintage aspect. The places in Jimbocho were packed with people reading and drinking. They weren't just relic dives. I was into this a few years ago and came across many Japanese links on the subject. There are probably books and magazines on it as well.....Bourbon, the place I linked to above, is where Isoroku Yamamoto used to hang out. That blows my mind.

            1. re: Silverjay

              Whoops, meant to say Bordeaux not Bourbon.

              1. re: Silverjay

                Haha, I still remember Bordeaux as being the single worst experience of my entertainment career in Tokyo. I had such high expectations based on the awesome exterior and interior, but then the service was so weird, and the prices were so, so high, and the quality was low. I can laugh about it now, and it sure is cool to be in there.

                1. re: jem589

                  Also, Cafe de l'Ambre is right on the other side of that block, one street towards Chuo. They're got some decent atmosphere as well as the famous aged coffee beans (1954 Colombia, 1974 Cuba, etc). And it's crowded.

      2. Dunno if this in fact suits your request, but the Kamiya Bar in Asakusa ( still maintains a bit of the old. It's not really a bar, but rather a cafeteria with the original system of ordering and outfitted attendants still in place.

        1. The Ginza Lion is said to be the oldest beer hall in Tokyo. it has an amazing sort of fascist/heimat mosaic. Also Bar Lupin in ginza where Osamu Dasai and other writers drank themselves into stupors in the early post war era.

          1. Fantastic tips so far, thank you all so much! I will be sure to report back with photos from my explorations.