2017/09/22 What's On
Ritziest Cafés in Japan
by Jordan Mounteer
Japan is no slouch when it comes to expensive tastes, and anyone who’s spent $100 on a melon can attest to the fact that there are a whole range of designer and luxury items unique to the country. The embedded fascination with high class, whether rooted in Japan’s own feudal history or borrowed from Victorian-era England, extends to their ritzier establishments as well. If you ever wanted to know what it’s like to pay an exorbitant amount for a mocha or to revel in the status inherent in sipping a beverage on the third floor of a glamorous boutique, we’ve got you covered. We take a look at some of the ritziest – and most expensive – cafés Japan has to offer.
Gucci Café – 4-4-10 4F Gucci Ginz, Ginza Chuo, Tokyo
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that a lot of these cafés tend to be adjuncts of pre-existing stores, and it should come as even less of a surprise that these tend to be internationally known designer boutiques. Well known for their purses (and, probably just as famously, for being one of the most counterfeited brands in the world), the very ornate Gucci headquarters located within the same area of Ginza includes their own take on luxury cuisine. On the fourth floor of their building the so-called Gucci Café offers a range of specialty dishes and drinks including a rotating￥3600 lunch set and a ￥2300 desert menu. If you’re a fan of tiramisu, then look no further. The café can definitely attract its share of patrons, and during the rush and peak hours expect it to be busy. Thankfully it’s quite spacious and doesn’t feel overly crowded owing to the pleasant ambiance, plus even when it’s packed people tend to self-police their volume so you’ll never get the impression you’re in a zoo. And although the food is limited, the staff are the absolute epitome of professional and more than willing to try and accommodate you (both in English or Japanese). Also, don’t forget to check out the specialty chocolates for sale behind the glass counter. Although we can’t help but think the price tag on them probably has more to do with Gucci’s logo embossed on them than anything to do with the chocolate itself.
Maison Hermés La Café – Ginza 5-4-1, Chuo, Tokyo
As pretentious as the name, and reminiscent of a 19th century gentleman’s club that would rival Versailles, it’s no surprise that this incredibly exclusive little gem goes out of its way to be as innocuous and obscure as possible. It’s quite tricky to even find the place, and involves entering the Hermes building through a side street before taking some dizzying turns, and after a few more byzantine directions you’ll find yourself seated in a very small café. Unlike the others on our list, this one is particularly tiny, and doesn’t have any windows, so it can feel a bit stifling. On the other hand, you can’t help but wonder if that’s the point. Anonymity seems to be the key here, and there are rumors that famous Kabuki actors frequent the joint as a way to get out from under the paparazzi’s magnifying glass. As such, there is definitely a flavor of snootiness here, and feels more like what you would except of a 1920’s speakeasy: somewhere quiet, discreet, and only known through word of mouth. On the other hand, it’s also a fun place to show off to your friends, and the secretive atmosphere and ambiance is bound to make an impression. The espressos here are also very cheap, compared some of the other designer label cafés, and will only set you back ￥1000 yen.
The Aquarium – Meijiya Ginza Bldg.2F, 2-6-7 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo
The last one on our list is The Aquarium, situated in the Alfred Dunhill store. Like the Maison, there is something comfortable and also private about this establishment, almost as if the designers wanted to create a place that was safe from the hustle and bustle which hallmarks urban Tokyo. And they certainly have achieved it. While not quite as exclusive, it still manages to convey a sense of luxury and affordability, two things which don’t often mix. They offer a variety of drinks, ranging from classic coffees to alcoholic beverages, but one of the biggest appeals of The Aquarium is as a people watching location. On a muggy summer day you can easily spend an hour or more in the air conditioned café watching customers and pedestrians go about their business. On the second floor of the Alfred Dunhill is also a large window shop where you can observe a tailor working his magic on specialty ordered suits. Later on in the day don’t hesitate to head to the third floor which is also attached to the café but focuses more on beers, wines, cocktails, and spirits.
Tajimaya Coffee Honten – 1-2-6 Nishi-shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Although perhaps not as opulent as the other cafés on this list, Tajimaya deserves a mention simply because of how seriously the art of brewing is taken here. Located in the heart of Shinjuku near a number of very famous places for taking pictures, the two story establishment is run by a true coffee master. This is not your everyday buy-and-go Starbucks. Every week you can expect a variety of different specialty coffees, and the tasting room feels like you’re stepping back in time as soon as the rich smells of roasted coffee beans hit your nose. Expect there to be a fairly steady stream of visitors and patrons, as the Tajimaya Coffee Honten attracts pretty much every demographic you can imagine, from young couples on dates to curious tourists to true coffee connoisseurs. This is also one of the few places in Japan where you can sample Kopi Luwak coffee, which is purportedly the most expensive type in the world. The beans are eaten and digested by civet cats, and after they pass through the digestive system the beans are washed off and roasted, giving them a nuanced flavor that is totally unique. If you can manage the￥3000 per cup price, that is. Even if “poop” coffee isn’t on your bucket list, it’s still a really cool place to check out on a whim, if only for the ambiance.
Whether you’re rich or poor, there is something undeniably attractive about the classical design and charm that goes along with high end establishments – and even if it’s only a once in a lifetime thing, the next time you find yourself in Tokyo don’t be afraid to try out one of these ritzy cafés. Who knows, you might even run into a celebrity?
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