Harajuku’s latest hotspot offers good value (but needs to find its mojo)


Originally published on on March 2010

Photos courtesy of Cluh

When it comes to drinking in Harajuku, we admit that our mental address book normally comes up short. It’s either squeeze into whatever space is available at Montoak or shrug and turn the reins over to someone else. So it was with both delight and relief that we discovered Cluh. With large picture windows and simple, modern décor—think comfy low leather seats and cherry-colored wood tables—this new bar isn’t entirely unlike our old favorite. Yet its open floor plan feels spacious compared to Montoak’s labyrinthine layout, even if it lacks the privacy factor and cool tinted glass.

The day we visited Cluh (whose name, believe it or not, is an acronym for “Coz there’s Like Ur Home”) was definitely not one for nearby Yoyogi Park. It was cold and wet, and this, along with the evening vision of shoppers weighed down under umbrellas, put us in the mood for martinis. However, just as I placed an order for the vague-sounding “fruits martini” (¥1,000), my more resilient drinking partner perked up and opted for a mojito (¥1,050). It was just after 5pm and there was only one barman, which might explain why our drinks took 20 minutes to arrive. When they did, the martini turned out to be a mellow “white grape” variety made with easy-to-drink Belvedere vodka, and the mojito eminently and naturally minty.

Cluh’s wine list is varied (in price and region) though not particularly imaginative, and we plumped for a middle-of-the-road Washington state Merlot (¥900/glass). From there we moved on to heartier fare, including mussels steamed in white wine (10 for ¥1,200), a four-cheese pizza (¥1,600), and porcini mushroom and foie gras risotto (¥1,600). Picking tentatively at the impressive mound of cheesy rice, topped with crushed walnuts and balsamic reduction in addition to a very visible chunk of foie gras, we puzzled at our luck: the portions were tasty and substantial. Nothing to rave about, but considering the price, we thought the value excellent.

In fact, that sums up our feelings about Cluh in general. It lacked that intangible factor—call it vibe or scene—that makes a truly compelling bar, yet we had nothing to complain about. Certainly not the bill for dinner and drinks, which came to just over ¥8,000 for two. The first hiccup aside, we found the service smooth, the jazzy lounge music unobtrusive, and the air unhurried. The smattering of other patrons seemed content to linger. While we doubt that Cluh would become a destination in its own right, we happily filed it away for the next time we were in the area. The bar is also positioning itself as a café that’s open for lunch and as a gallery, with a wall of small cubby hole-style showcases for design products.