March 12, 2009
The Bubble Era lives on—warts and all—at this Nishi-Azabu bar
Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on March 2009
Many of us were mere youngsters at the height of the Bubble Era, unable to locate Japan on a map much less imagine all the scandalous fun being had by spandex-clad ladies at Roppongi discos. Twenty years on, that infamous period of flashy excess is long gone. Or is it? In a corner of Nishi-Azabu lies Bar Zazzle, a haven for anyone interested in experiencing the wondrous world of late-’80s and early-’90s Tokyo.
The bar’s dimly lit interior gives center stage to a sunken pit with padded walls (for safety?) and stacks of slate-colored cushions and pillows, arranged into four seating areas. There are two bar counters, each of which peddle their own form of Miami Vice-style chic, faux marble and all.
Bar Zazzle provided quite the Bubble-Era workout for our wallets as well as our eyes. A relentless R&B soundtrack blared in the background as we shuffled through pages upon pages of drinks, very few dropping below the ¥1,000 mark. After much deliberation, the members of our group with double X chromosomes settled on some cocktails, one a lemon-lime mix and the other with star fruit. Both were surprisingly uninspired considering their ¥1,400 price tag. Our odd man out took the more masculine route and ordered a Caol Ila whiskey (¥1,200), which was good—though whether it was aged 10 years, as the menu told us in English, or 12, like it said in Japanese, remained a mystery.
The food, likewise, was an overpriced hit-and-miss frenzy, with options ranging from typical Italian fare to a smorgasbord of desserts and, um, Indian curry. Attracted by the menu’s offer of cheeses, we chewed through the list of incomprehensible katakana names and finally plumped for a plate of three (¥1,500): Pecorino, Mimolette and Selles sur Cher, served on a silver platter with a dish of saltines—very classy.
A second round of drinks saw us playing it safe with the watery Torres Gran Sangre de Toro (¥1,200), the only wine offered by the glass. As we choked down our beverages, we watched a member of what looked like a gokon group in the opposite corner nearly send his cushions flying as he gestured excitedly. Next to them sat a team of three somber businessmen, headed by a dandy CEO type who looked as if he was reminiscing about the good old days back in 1985.
The scene left us feeling about 20 years and several million yen out of place, but it was thrown into relief when a group of young career women filed in and began ordering what looked like frozen margaritas topped with fruit and brownies. The girls-night-out crowd is likely Zazzle’s target audience, what with its carb- and sweets-laden menu and list of over 55 cocktails. There’s also a very affordable ladies-only nomihodai cocktails plan for only ¥3,500 every day until 10pm, which made us feel all the more foolish cradling our glasses of wine as we watched the gaggle of girls chug down their frozen treats.