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Artnia – Square Enix Cafe

So art

So art

So Square Enix decided to close its elaborately named “Character Goods Shop” in favour of a venture into Japan’s favourite theme cafe business. Inside an egg. The result was… OK. Just OK. Artnia’s menu doesn’t have much variety, and the 6 bottles of alcohol from which all the cocktails are made sit on top of the bar, as if to say: “This is it”.

Shiva in liquid form.

Shiva in liquid form.

The fancy glass in which they serve the Shiva cocktail makes up for this a little, if only because it reminds me of the crystal my grandma owns that I am hoping to one day inherit. The cocktail itself is pretty good, with lychee flavoured Dita being the main ingredient.

A nerdgasm was had when they brought these

A nerdgasm was had when they brought these

Free cookie on arrival? Shut up and take my money!

Free cookie on arrival? Shut up and take my money!

The food varies from good to downright disappointing. None of it looks exciting enough to warranty taking photos. We ordered a smoked salmon salad, which was the best tasting dish, assorted sausages from the bar time menu, which were the same as in any other place that serves sausages, and sweet and sour shrimp on rice. First of all, the amount of shrimp was kind of unacceptable. Secondly, the sweet and sour sauce was a total lie. What was it instead you ask? Why, none other than ketchup. Being quite hungry on arrival, I was disappointed to say the least. I definitely needed a dessert to get that taste out of my mouth. Perhaps that was their plan all along. Seriously though, don’t order the shrimp and rice!

Choco banana parfait

Choco banana parfait

The dessert choice is between parfait and pancakes, so we decided to go with the parfait. There are only 2 choices, so we got one of each.

Chocolate Buster Sword

Chocolate Buster Sword

The choco banana parfait comes decorated with a mini chocolate buster sword, and the strawberry one with something sugary, like cake frosting back in the UK, shaped like Aeris’ ribbon.

Aeris? You in there?

Aeris? You in there?

The parfaits didn’t have any cornflakes in them, which is a pleasant surprise in Japan, but the choco banana had coffee jelly, which I’m not a huge fan of, and the strawberry had custard. So depends on your taste I guess. The desserts were definitely the best food choice, so don’t go here hungry. Most dishes and cocktails are under 1000 yen, and there is no table charge.

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The decor is clinically… I mean stylishly white, which must be a pain in the ass for the staff to clean. The tables are also way too small to house 3 dishes at the same time, so beware. We were lucky to finish the sausages right as the ketchup shrimp arrived. When we went in the evening, the establishment wasn’t crowded, which is nice.

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Guess we found Yuffie's materia stash!

Guess we found Yuffie’s materia stash!

The biggest draw of the establishment is, I’m guessing, the relocated goods from the old shop. The overpriced silver jewellery is still here, with sold out items never removed from display, just to taunt you. You can also get a variety of other goods from t-shirts to soft toys, figures to phone straps and so on. Definitely worth a visit for the Final Fantasy and or Dragon Quest fan, and eating isn’t even a purchase requirement. Good.

" Shhh. Don't tell them about the ketchup shrimp."

” Shhh. Don’t tell them about the ketchup shrimp.”

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Alcatraz E.R.

From the outside.

From the outside.

Alcatraz E.R. is a prison hospital themed izakaya in Shibuya. It is near the O-West gig venue, and the address is:  Tokyo, Shibuya, Dogenzaka, 2−13−5 ハーベストビルディング2F. The nearest stations are Shibuya and Shinsen.

I want to break free!

I want to break free!

After you take the elevator to the second floor, you will be greeted by some prison bars with 4 buttons behind them. You need to push one of these to open the doors to this fine establishment. I think a while back each button was supposed to represent a different blood type, but I don’t think anyone paid much attention to this so the signs have since been removed. Once you’re in, you will be greeted by a “nurse” and asked if you have a reservation. Making one is definitely advised, especially if it’s the weekend. You can call them on +81 3-3770-7100. They will probably have someone who understands some English. Maybe.

Second best floor prize after the Robot Restaurant.

Second best floor prize after the Robot Restaurant.

Be sure to take in the sights as you are walked to your prison cell, especially if you are a B movie horror fan.

Home sweet home.

Home sweet home.

Depending on where you are seated, you might be able to spot some profanities or silly words scribbled on the walls. The decorating team definitely had a lot of fun here.

The menu

The menu

The menu has pictures and English captions, but if you can read Japanese you might be able to pick up some of the word play jokes in the names of the dishes.

The bell

The bell

When you’re ready to order, bang the metal bar on the bars for that authentic prison experience.

Thirsty?

Thirsty?

The drink menu is great, and includes gems such as the one served inside a giant fake head, a jug that the nurse makes you stir with a vibrator and a baby bottle that she will put into your mouth and keep there until you drink some.

Smoked salmon salad

Smoked salmon salad

Caged chicken, "Corosuke" and spicy chicken wings

Caged chicken, “Corosuke” and spicy chicken wings

Other than the funny names, the dishes are standard izakaya fodder and vary in quality depending on the dish. They do have a selection of Russian Roulette plates, where one of the pieces is either filled with hot sauce, which is apparently not all that hot, or wasabi. These make for a fun game with friends.

The Dead Room, apparently. Perhaps they were going for morgue?

The Dead Room, apparently. Perhaps they were going for morgue?

Once every 2 hours or so there is a fun show, the contents of which I won’t spoil for you. Last time I went, this was better than the Lock Up (another prison themed izakaya chain). Sit back, relax, and enjoy all the screams of Japanese women that you’ve always wanted to hear.

Nurse? Nurse!

Nurse? Nurse!

Alcatraz E.R. has a 500 yen table charge, with fun cocktails around 700-800 yen, but cheaper drinks available. Food also varies in price, but most dishes are under 1000. Expect to spend around 2500 yen per person if you’re being modest.

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Club Arch is closing, Diamond Cutter is moving!

I have previously written about Diamond Cutter here, but thought I’d let you know about the upcoming venue change and the subsequent pricing changes.

This coming weekend sees the final parties at Nichome’s longest-running club venue, Arch, before it closes its doors. So from February, Diamond Cutter will be joining the other girls events around the corner at the Aisotope Lounge.

February 2014 flyer

February 2014 flyer

February will see the usual Valentine theme, giving dress up discounts to those in red. But the dress up discount isn’t as worthwhile as it used to be. Before, if you dressed up you only had to pay 2000 yen and got a drink ticket. Now, you still pay 2000 yen, but there are no drinks included, so your base expenditure has gone up by whatever Aiso charges for your drink of choice. Also gone is the flyer discount, which wasn’t much in the first place, so it doesn’t make that much of a difference, and saves you having to hunt for flyers beforehand. I guess they wanted to eliminate dealing with 100 yen coins. The visitor price has been reduced to 2500, but again this doesn’t include a drink so you will be spending the same 3000 you did before. Seeing as the venue has clearly had a say in the door prices, I wouldn’t be surprised if they did the same thing I saw at Boyish Friend back in August, where they charge you 500 yen if you want to leave the venue and come back. We’ll have to see if this is the club rule or decided by the event organisers themselves.

The bright side? Two rooms, so more space, and it definitely doesn’t get as smoky as Arch did, so we will just have to see what DC does with the new venue. I’m definitely looking forward to finding out.

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Capcom Bar

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The Capcom Bar is an entertainment bar located near the Shinjuku Ward Office, a stone’s throw away from the amazing Robot Restaurant. The nearest subway exit is B9 from the Shinjuku Sanchome station on the Marunouchi line, but it is also within walking distance from the JR Shinjuku and Seibu Shinjuku stations. There is no table charge, and the prices are very reasonable for Tokyo.

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The venue is open from 2:00pm on weekdays and 11:30am on weekends, and closes at 11:30pm. It operates in 2 hour slots, with a 30 minute pause to clean up and give the staff a break. The slots are as follows: 11:30am – 1:30pm (weekends only), 2:00pm – 4:00pm, 4:30pm – 6:30pm, 7:00pm – 9:00pm and 9:30pm – 11:30pm. The annoying thing about the system is that you can’t reserve a table in advance or over the phone. You have to go there in person on the day in order to make a reservation. Once the reservation is made, you can call them to change the reservation. When the bar first opened, getting a table was quite difficult, but the last few times I went, there were no problems, and there were few people there besides us, especially if you go for the last slot on a weekday.

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All the food items and drinks in the menu are game themed, with pages dedicated to popular Capcom titles such as Resident Evil (Biohazard in Japan), Phoenix Wright, Monster Hunter and many others. Ordering certain dishes will make the staff act out a scene from a game, such as the Phoenix Wright onion ring tower, which makes everyone shout “Objection!” to the sauce, or a drink that makes them send out a hadouken, which rarely hits in the direction they are sending it too.

Biohazard Pizza

Biohazard Pizza

The staff are always fantastically helpful, enthusiastic, and enjoy talking to the customers. It’s always refreshing to see people who don’t hate their job, and they genuinely don’t. You can tell. There has always been someone who could speak some English, so the language barrier isn’t too much of a problem here. Plus, all the menu items have pictures, although they do provide an English menu if you ask. Once you’ve chosen what you want to eat or drink, you have to use your matching skills to find the item on the order sheet, as it just has the dish names in Japanese. You can also ask the staff to do it for you. The food itself is really good, especially compared to other theme restaurants in Tokyo, and the selection of drinks is impressive. The portions are quite modest though, so it’s always a good idea to order a few different things and share.

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There are free games you can play on the Xbox, PS3 and 3DS, and magazines and game books that you can look at. Once per time slot there is also a prize draw. Each seat has a number, so they draw a number out of a box and if it matches your seat number, you get the prize. The prizes vary – I have seen t-shirts, phone pouches, badges and stickers so far. Our table won the last 3 times I went because there was hardly anyone else there, or the other customers left before the lottery (it is near the end of the time slot).

You get to keep the paw stirrer!

You get to keep the paw stirrer!

On top of everything else, there is a goods menu from which you can buy souvenirs. The menu changes every few months, and the good items sell out quickly, but you can still buy something from your favourite game. The last order for goods is an hour before the end of your time slot. Last order for food and drinks is half an hour after that.

If you are a fan of video games, this is definitely a place you want to visit.

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Robot Restaurant – The Greatest Show On Earth

I'm not sure what the lady behind me has to do with the Robot Restaurant, but that pretty much sums up the whole experience.

I’m not sure what the lady behind me has to do with the Robot Restaurant, but that pretty much sums up the whole experience.

Nothing that originated from Japan that the west has stared at in disbelief and/or laughed at even comes close to the colossus of entertainment that is the Robot Restaurant. Situated in Shinjuku’s notorious Kabukicho district, it is the one thing you must do while in Japan. To be fair, calling it a restaurant is a stretch, but it is, without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest show on earth.

IMG_5201The entrance doesn’t come cheap at 5000 yen, but it is a reasonable price to pay for any theatre performance, and after having been, I can safely say that I would have gladly paid twice as much. Currently, the free weekly English magazine Metropolis is printing a 20% off voucher in every issue, so you can get in for the low, low price of 4000. You need to have one voucher per person to get the discount, which shouldn’t be a problem, as you can find Metropolis practically everywhere.

I come prepared.

I come prepared.

The decor consists entirely of neon, LEDs, and neon LEDs. Stepping in at first can be a little blinding, but after a while your eyes will adjust to the light as you ooh and aah down a narrow staircase leading to the spacious basement theatre. The seating is teared and there are only 3 rows on each side, so you don’t have to worry about a tall gentleman in a top hat obstructing your view.

The wheel of seizure.

The wheel of seizure.

The greatest floor on earth.

The greatest floor on earth.

How they fit this in Kabukicho, I will never know.

How they fit this in Kabukicho, I will never know.

The entertainment consists of about 6 shows lasting around 5-10 minutes each, and they are all more jaw-droppingly awesome than the last. Seriously. I sat there thinking that it couldn’t possibly get any better, and then it did. Oh how it did. Every time. Trying to describe the shows would be futile, because no words, pictures or youtube videos can adequately explain how amazing it is to have this stuff happen a few metres away from your face. The only way I will try to sell this place to you if you aren’t already convinced is this: Professional pole dancer on a moving platform with robot legs. Giant dancing robots. Chicks in bikinis riding giant robots. What more could you possibly want? The restaurant caters well to foreigners as the show narratives are done in both English and Japanese as a voice-over or as subtitles on the TV screen walls opposite you. Also, at the end everyone is given a glow stick and asked to join in the fun, and you can take pictures with the robots.

This girl knew what she was doing!

This girl knew what she was doing!

Other sources of entertainment are the looks on the faces of people sitting opposite you.  Although my jaw seldom left the floor for the duration of the show, I noticed that a wife (I think) of a guy sitting on the other side was less than impressed with her husband ogling scantily clad dancers. Her face of disapproval was hilarious. To be fair, she should have known what she was getting herself into.

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I’ve been told that the show changes every 6 months, and from watching the video on the restaurant’s site I can confirm that this is true, as there was no robotic shark when I went. Now I’m sad I missed the robot shark. Guess I’ll just have to go again.

Chicks riding giant robot chicks. Genius!

Chicks riding giant robot chicks. Genius!

Wouldn't be complete without some audience participation.

Wouldn’t be complete without some audience participation.

Although the show is fantastic, I believe you also deserve a fair warning about the food. You get 2 choices: meat or fish. Although the meal comes in bento form, so vegetarians can still eat the rice and pickles that don’t come into contact with other parts of the box. It’s not exactly filling, but it’s also not as bad as some people make it out to be. Just your average Japanese bento. The entry fee also buys you a small bottle of green tea, so if you want alcohol you can purchase a draft beer for 500 yen (standard bar and restaurant price) or a can of chu-hai (Japanese shochu with sparkling water and a flavouring of your choice) for 400 yen.

Upstairs bar.

Upstairs bar.

Before or after the show, do stop by the 3rd floor waiting room bar. It looks incredible, and the drinks are cheaper than most establishments in the area. They are around 500-600 yen per drink!

Awww yeah

Awww yeah

Not visiting the Robot Restaurant will be the biggest mistake you’ll ever make!

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Mai Dreamin

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Mai Dreamin is the number 1 maid cafe chain in Japan, with 6 locations in Akihabara alone. They also have cafes in Nagoya and Osaka. I’ve visited 2 of their locations in Akihabara, and it was definitely a lot of fun.

For those who don’t know, maid cafes are establishments where young girls dressed in maid outfits serve you adorably presented food and drinks, sing, dance, and do delicious food spells for your amusement. Some of the effort is lost when translated into English, as the girls call you things like Master and Madam, and as you can tell that sounds a lot more dirty than it is actually meant to. Also, the “making your food and drinks delicious” spells just don’t sound as cute, with the Mai Dreamin coined “美味しく慣れ萌え萌えキュー” (oishikunare moe moe kyu) becoming “delicious, delicious, moe moe kyu”. Although the last part is the same, it just doesn’t sound as good. Also lost are the maids adding “nyan” (the sound cats make according to Japan) to the end of words and sentences. So watch plenty of anime before you go, so you can catch some of these ridiculously cute expressions.

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The food offered by Mai Dreamin has grown in variety over the past few years. During my last visit, they offered the standard maid cafe omurice (omelette over fried rice with ketchup) and Japanese curry dishes as well as a selection of cute creations, pasta, salads and small dishes. Plus an extensive variety of drinks. You can see the full menu on their site. This is what I decided to go with:

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Although the website says that the charge is 500 yen per hour plus 1 order, this is, in fact, a lie. You have to order 2 things each, and this doesn’t include chekkis (a polaroid photo taken with the maids). You are not allowed to take photos of the girls with your own camera, and if you want the maids to perform or any souvenirs, be prepared to cough up even more cash. We were lucky because when we went someone else ordered a maid performance, so we actually got some entertainment. All in all, the bill comes to around 2500-3000 per person if you order 2 items and a chekki (500 yen each). They have sets with the chekkis included at around the same price, but you don’t really get as much of a choice when it comes to food. The portion size is better than it used to be though, and the meals are pretty filling. It’s definitely not the cheapest maid cafe around, but it is the most well known, so they must be doing something right.

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Diamond Cutter

Diamond Cutter is a monthly women only event held in Shinjuku Nichome’s club Arch on the second Saturday of the month. As Arch will be closing soon, I’m not sure where the event will move to, but it should still be in the same area. Perhaps someone will just take over Arch and open it under a new name, which is what happened to the club currently known as the Isotope Lounge.

The entry fee is 3000 yen for visitors, 2700 with a flyer and 2000 for people adhering to the dress code, which changes every month. The entry fee includes 1 free drink, and unlimited re-entry to the club, which other monthly events like GF charge for. Flyers can be found at most bars and cafes in the area. To get in, you must be over 20 and bring a valid ID. Once inside, the drinks start at 600 yen for beer, and cocktails are around 700-800 yen each. There are also shots of tequila brought around by the staff that you can haggle for. We managed to get 3 for 1000, when they were initially 500 yen each.

Any excuse to get the host hair.

Any excuse to get the host hair.

The event attracts a younger clientele than some of the others, and I like it because there’s always a sizable visual kei crowd with awesome host hair. Everyone is very friendly and you can easily find people that speak English and make friends even if you are by yourself. If you’re a foreigner, you’re bound to get some awesome compliments too. So far I was told that I look like Shane, Angelina Jolie and Audrey Hepburn (because they all look so alike hahaha). Why thank you, Japan, for a super self-esteem boost.

There’s always at least one show per night. These range from drag queen performances to burlesque dancers and are always entertaining. There are also go go dancers and pole dancers entertaining the crowd throughout the night.  Diamond Cutter also has a system where each person gets a safety pin with a number card, and there are plastic pockets on one of the walls with all the numbers, so if you’re too shy to talk to someone, you can just write them a message. The event usually finishes around 5, by which time some trains should already be running.

If you’re not convinced of how awesome this event is yet, their next party’s theme is… wait for it… a bikini Christmas party. You get the dress code discount if you come in a bikini or in a Santa outfit. Now, I went to their last bikini party and they had a paddling pool that we totally got to sit in when we asked nicely, which was a relief as the club gets unbearably hot during the summer months. Last night’s theme was maids and butlers, and I felt comfortable in a long sleeved shirt and waistcoat. The music also changes depending on the theme. Last night started off with some visual kei, but later on in the night the DJs seemed to revert to the usual line-up of dance hits and remixes.

December 2013 event flyer.

December 2013 event flyer.

The only downside of the event is that Japan allows smoking indoors, so the premises get really smoky, and you will definitely need to wash your clothes after because you will walk out smelling like an ashtray. Although I guess if Japan banned smoking indoors, people here would live until they were around 150, and the government definitely doesn’t want that.

The event also has a women only bar, Diamond Holic,  which is also in Nichome. It’s free to get into (they used to charge 1000), with all drinks at 800 yen and food at 500 yen. I’ll be sure to write more about it in another post.

If you only want to go to one girls’ event, you should definitely choose Diamond Cutter. I think it is by far the best.