September 24, 2009
Set sail for a hidden treasure in the sea of Ginza extravagance
Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on September 2009
If you’ve always admired ships from afar but find yourself blowing chunks when riding on the real thing, a trip to Alta Mar might be in order. The latest Ginza colony of the Nelson’s Bar empire is another nautically themed tribute to England’s greatest admiral, Horatio Nelson. With rose mahogany surrounding you, a mast hanging overhead and portholes to reflect your grizzled sailor mug, all that’s missing is the violent lurching and seasickness. Frankly, we’re not going to complain.
We boarded the vessel on a Friday night at around 20:00 hours, catching sight of a collection of old maritime tools and maps as we stepped over the floor’s bronze-inlaid compass. The deck hands, er, bar staff who immediately greeted us were all friendly and able-bodied. One even spoke the Admiral’s mother tongue.
Soft amber lighting and an understated R&B soundtrack—which somehow managed not to feel out of place—added to the warm vibe. The other customers numbered a rough dozen when we arrived, but two hours later all 50-odd seats were occupied.
The drink menu at Alta Mar is a one-coin-friendly ¥500, with the exception of the bottles of Chardonnay and Cabernet (¥3,000) and Hawaiian Kona Beer (¥750). There’s a reliable smattering of spirits and cocktails, and the bartender also accepts requests. The Mojito and Cuba Libre proved to be the highlights of our visit, both surprisingly strong while retaining a light tanginess that took the edge off the evening’s humidity. The three varieties of Kona on offer (Big Wave Golden Ale, Long Board Lager and Fire Rock Pale Ale) provided the only points of interest in an otherwise meager beer selection, consisting of draft Asahi, Asahi Black, Bass Pale Ale, “Beer Cocktails” and bottled Corona.
After dousing our rum holes, we perused the “Snacks” section of the menu—mixed nuts, beef jerky, pickles, Hershey’s Kisses and dried fruit (¥250 each)—and decided that the “Food” (¥500 each) looked like a better bet. The chicken salad came stacked in a pyramid of diced carrots, onions and shredded lettuce, topped with roast meat and a tart dressing. The chicken steak, meanwhile, was tender and juicy, served with an accompaniment of sauerkraut, relish and mustard dip. Suitably impressed, we followed up with grilled potatoes, sausages and a plate of cheese and crackers. The spuds, doused in Thai sauce, hit just the right note of spiciness, while the generous selection of sausages tasted fantastic with or without the tangy mustard accompaniment. The creamy slabs of herb and garlic cheese were mighty fine too, though the six crackers they came with seemed like grocery store Saltines from our grandmother’s bread box.
That bum note aside, Alta Mar is a good bet if you find yourself—and your wallet—exhausted after a grueling day of brand-name shopping. With its inventive décor, friendly staff and affordable prices, this nautical outpost makes colonization seem almost civilized.