April 30, 2009
Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on April 2009We’ve seen the manager of MacArthur Garage hard at work in a bunny suit before, but on a recent Thursday night, we were surprised to find the entire staff in costume. A waitress—clad in a pink rabbit get-up—showed us to a couch upstairs, where Superman took our orders.
“It’s for Easter,” the waiter responded to our inevitable questions. Was Superman at Easter? “Maybe he was at Japanese Easter,” he shrugged and went to get our drinks.
After a couple of rounds, the giggling girls at the table next to ours went downstairs and returned in costumes of their own, one now reinvented as Little Bo Peep. Their fellas weren’t about to be outdone: one came back in a Chinese dress that showed a lot of leg, the other decked out as a Japanese mayonnaise bottle. They have costumes for that too, apparently.
Normality, of course, is the last thing you’d expect at a ’40s-themed bar and restaurant named after General Douglas MacArthur. The head of Japan’s postwar occupation first touched down in the country at Atsugi Base—just down the road—on August 30, 1945, and his influence looms large at the Garage. Pinup posters and vintage travel prints paper the walls, and the center of the room is occupied by a vintage Cadillac said to have carried the General and his wife Jean around during their time here.
Garage can accommodate up to 120 people and has a fun, retro vibe even when you don’t stumble in on a party night. A central stage is used for nightly performances, usually jazz, which go down well with the youngish, suited Japanese clientele. Our perch upstairs gave us a secluded vantage point over the live music, but the grungy carpet and shaggy chairs make the bar around the performance area the ideal place to sit.
The General’s presence can be felt most strongly in the drink menu, a fair portion of which seems to be named after him. You can order MacArthur shots, cocktails, or even a MacArthur beer (¥798), which mixes suds with ginger ale and tequila. A poor man’s margarita, in other words, but it isn’t half bad. Cocktails are all priced at ¥798, which drops to ¥398 if your group is ladies-only. Atsugi Base gets a tipple of its own, as does the nearby Camp Zama. We end up keeping it local with a Sagami River instead, a mochi syrup-infused concoction that comes with a lemon slice and orchid.
The mostly American-style grub starts at ¥368 for a taco, and runs to garlic French fries (¥683), a very serviceable basil gnocchi (¥840) and fried octopus (¥577). With chilling inevitability, you’ll also find MacArthur donuts (¥577), pasta (¥840), salad, pizza and pilaf (all ¥998) on the menu.
Even before we’d visited MacArthur Garage, it seemed a little odd to have an American general glorified in a Japanese bar—but after several trips, “a little odd” is an understatement for this place.