...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Bars of Shinjuku Golden Gai and......nope

I've had so many grandiose projects that never came to fruition that I've actually lost count of all the current ones. These ideas often remain incomplete due to my cowardice or lack of willpower at the end of the day. Other times it's due to having spent half of my adult life in pursuit of a screenwriting career and the miserable experience that turned out to be. But every once in a while, a brilliant plan gets nipped because of reality.

The place

Golden Gai was unknown to me until after I had returned from my first trip to Japan, in 2015. Then I immediately became obsessed with the place. To paraphrase Liz Lemon, I wanted to go to there. Over 200 bars squeezed into a handful of tiny alleys? Count my ass in. I was ready to change all of my anonymous online avatars to Golden Guy. I'd even thought out how I'd train for the mission.

The plan

As I scheduled this year's Japanese excursion, I made sure to set aside two nights to devote to Golden Gai. I bought an extra SD card for my fancy camera, and a stabilization device for my cellphone camera. The plan was to shoot a massive amount of footage and interviews (sober or not) so I could assemble the great YouTube document of Golden Gai.

Through airBnb, I'd reserved a nice apartment in Kabukichō, about two blocks from the edge of Golden Gai, for five nights. It was HQ for the Tokyo portion of my voyage.

An excellent sign

The reality

It wasn't until a few days before the flight to Japan that I started reading some online grumbling about the Golden Gai bars' widespread usage of seating/cover charges. As in ¥1000 (or $9) per bar. Upon my arrival in Shinjuku, this practice was confirmed.

Japanese bars are my favorite drinking establishments in the world. I've written quite a few posts about my dreamy adventures, and believe it or not, I've yet to drop the best one. But I cannot reconcile this cover charge practice with the rest of the experience. Some bars will provide snacks in return for the fee. Many don't.

If you like going wine tasting, you've encountered something similar: the tasting fee. A winery will hit you with a charge to taste 4 to 8 of their wines, which is understandable on the surface. But from there, wineries split into two camps: those that wave the tasting fee once the customer buys bottles, and those that don't. The latter are a major pisser. If I'm putting six bottles on the counter, and they're weighing in at $150, the fact that your business can't waive the $10 tasting fee is not only petty but it demotivates me from ever buying from you again. If I just do the tasting and walk away, then yeah the $10 charge makes sense.

When I go into a Japanese whisky bar, there's a 50% chance I'm about spend money like I'm 10 times wealthier than I actually am. If I'm polite and friendly, while being one of the biggest spenders of the night, why would you still charge me the seating fee?

There may be a cultural difference involved here. Tipping is frowned upon in Japan, but seating charges are frequent. Thus, when the bill came each time , I just pretended the fee was a crummy tip.
But nobody even notices her
because there's so much stuff going on.

The result

I did not go to the 200+ bars. There was no way I was going to drop $100, let alone $1000, to capture what was likely going to be poorly-lit poorly-focused visuals with bad sound. I mean, that's whisky money, man.

For my arrival day, I'd structured things so that I'd get to Shinjuku Station during daylight. If one is balancing several layers of jetlag, exiting that train depot at night may reduce your cognition to lemon Jello. Shinjuku is a sensory assault and there are chains and walls of fast moving city bodies blasting past you by the thousands per second. Last time, I was unprepared. This time, I knew better.

Despite finding my apartment with relative ease, I was plenty woozy. I was thankful I'd changed that night's plans from "Golden Gai, Night 1" to "wandering". Of course, my first move was to snoop around a half dozen liquor stores. Next I got some righteous noodles and a beer to clear my head.

Then, I settled in at one casual cozy bourbon bar, saving my real trouble-making for a few days hence.

To be continued...

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