I walk downstairs, expecting a wine cellar, a cool hideout, or a dusty bookstore. Instead, I find something much better: the Bunbougu Cafe, a trendy haunt that’s made even more favorable because of its basement location. The entrance invites me with various stationery, knick-knacks, and DIY birthday cards. It’s colorful and eclectic.
I am further greeted by an avalanche of unique stationery, beautiful pens and drawing materials, a carefully put-together wine cellar on one wall of the café, and a drawing corner where patrons attempt to replicate the head of a sculpture. There is a myriad of stickers available, for each and every occasion. I am elated particularly by the wine glass stickers: moustache or triangles … take your pick!
Crayons in the shape of a hippopotamus, a menu scribed in chalk, a salute to the patrons … charming, retro, and welcoming. And its essence is very much Tokyo; there’s nowhere else in the world you’d find something this interesting and unique.
The wine cellar boasts a small but interesting and varied collection of high-quality wines from a number of countries. Each comes with a small package of stationery attached to it.
So many items capture my attention, I do not know where to look first.
The lunch choices are around the ¥900-1,200 mark, and come with a complimentary drink. They offer a healthy pasta dish, a bagel with avocado and shrimp, soups, and salads. There are only five or six items, but there’s enough to cover what this chic demographic in the Omotesando and Aoyama district is interested in.
Spaghetti bolognese with fresh mozzarella cubes accompanied by a cup of miso soup is my choice of the day. Pasta with a uniquely Japanese flair—and a side of crayons and chalk.
The desserts on offer on my visit are roughly ¥580-800: an affogato, apple gratin with cream made from sake, and roasted Japanese-tea crème brûlée with honey. The many kinds of coffees (approximately ¥500-600) are delicious and presented with artwork on the froth. Mine had a broad smile and an outline of a bear.
As I sit down, I notice drawing paper on the table and inquire about it. I have two options, should I wish to unleash my creative self: sketch or write poetry, or become an amateur playwright during my lunch break.
Or—and I wait for the pregnant pause—I can become a member, which costs ¥700 for unlimited and continuous access to a key. “A key?” I think.
An official member gets a key for the drawers of the café tables, an official membership title, and number. For this one-off fee of ¥700, you get many little perks. The main draw: the ability to unlock all the table drawers in the café and play with the crayons. Additionally, you get a 10-percent discount on food and drinks. You can reserve a table on weekdays, receive an official title, and are invited to events.
I’ve never been one to reject a title. So, I decide to surrender, as I am deeply curious about what I’ll find in the drawers. I hand over the ¥700 fee, and await the key for the drawers of the tables, which is mine to keep for good. Now, it’s almost time for me to emerge as part of this elite, underground stationery café club. Joy, joy!
I find myself in the world of Narnia, opening a drawer instead of a door, and having access to crayons, notepads, and stickers that I use during the course of my lunch. This membership and element of surprise are what draw me even further into my world of love for Japan.
I scribble “Antananarivo”—a secret note to myself, hoping that one day, if I come here frequently enough, my wish to visit and photograph Madagascar and the lemurs will actualize.
I leave, having had a satisfying pasta and having bought a crayon in the shape of a hippopotamus as a gift, and having now become a member of a basement stationery café. I remind myself to write about, and allow myself to dream about exotic photography expeditions in the future. Antananarivo, here I come!
The café inspires creativity, play, and daydreaming. On my way out, convinced I’ve experienced it all and satisfied, I am delighted when I notice that there’s more.
The staff have scribbled in a black marker “Thank you,” on the staircase, and it is visible on the way out of the café. This is replete with an anime drawing. The words and imagery guide you on your way out of the basement. Could this little spot be more charismatic?
Hop to Omotesando for basements, lunch, vintage wines, and fabulous stationery. Allow yourself to be charmed.
4-8-1 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku. Nearest stn: Omotesando. Tel: 03-3470-6420.