“I wish I lived in a room that had a sound system like this.” It was this remark 25 years ago that led to the naming of Shibuya’s The Room, a mainstay in Tokyo’s jazz and soul music scene. A club/bar hybrid, The Room attracts customers, musicians, and creatives of all types from around the world. Visitors will find an unpretentious atmosphere paired with a strong sense of individuality.
The location’s name is fitting for its size. Literally a single-room space, located in Sakuragaoka-cho, with just a couple of seats near the door, the layout of the open floor area changes to accommodate the musical event scheduled each night. Visitors enter by descending a spiral staircase from street level. After passing through reception, the inside door swings open to reveal a long wooden bar bathed in dim, warm light from retro chandeliers, a cozy contrast to the otherwise jet-black interior.
Owner Shuya Okino is himself a DJ (Kyoto Jazz Massive) and also the Creative Director of Tokyo Crossover Jazz Festival. The Room first opened in 1992 with a “jazz and soul music-centric policy,” Okino explains. Although other genres have seen more play as time has passed, the original focus has not changed. Okino notes, “there’s a lot of boogie, deep house, and funk playing at The Room these days. Of course, it’s got a jazzy taste to it.”
The Room distinguishes itself in other ways as well. Okino points out, “except for one person, all staff are DJs or artists. I don’t think there’s any other club or music bar like that.” He also describes a long list of jazz and soul artists, DJs, and female vocalists that have come from The Room. “Visiting DJs and artists—musicians we love— will not only play their sets here, they’ll join customers in drinking and dancing.”
The Room’s strong sense of individuality is also apparent in its drinks (700-1000 yen); while the bar staff are responsible for creating the menu, Okino remarks, “there are also cases where I find a cocktail or liqueur overseas, get permission to import it, and we use that. The concept is creativity. Just as with the music, we want to create individualized cocktails.” Customers visiting The Room can describe the sort of thing they’re in the mood for, and bar staff will improvise a drink, creating something new just for them.
Okino expresses a strong desire for visitors to The Room to encounter people and experience music that is unknown to them. “For customers who visit from overseas, that’s an obvious thing, but for clubs and bars in Japan, it’s something that’s lacking.”
The Room enters its 25th year this year, and an anniversary party is planned for December. The space is constantly evolving, and Okino describes an upcoming development. In the afternoon The Room will be used for selling records, books, and other “souvenir-like” items. Coffee and light refreshments are also planned to be available. Okino’s aim remains clear: “I hope people listen to the unique selections from the DJs at The Room. That includes original tracks. The same goes for our weekday live performances and sessions. I truly hope that people can find music at The Room that they can’t hear anywhere else.”
But for those who prefer a location with plush seating and a strong emphasis on drinks (but who are still looking for soul and jazz in an intimate setting), there is Ginza Music Bar. With deep blue fabrics as the focus color for the décor, a sunken dining area, and windows looking out over Ginza backstreets, the atmosphere is a refined hideaway. The bar area blends seamlessly into the DJ booth, which stands in front of a floor-to-ceiling record catalogue.
Ginza Music Bar has a small food menu consisting largely of snacks and modest appetizers. Their seasonal drink menu includes a few original cocktails–at the time of this visit a spicy yuzu margarita, a “Japanese” old fashioned, and a tart martini were available. Presentations are classic with a bright twist, and drinks are made strong, certainly warranting the 1400-1600 yen price. There is also a menu of non-seasonal original drinks. Of course, standard drinks are available, and guests can customize their choice from the extensive liquor lists at the back of the menu.
Though it opens at 6 PM, it won’t fill up until about 10 PM, by which time guests in bespoke tailoring will be enjoying lively conversations against a background of jazz and soul music. Stop by to enjoy selections from a guest DJ you’re a fan of or simply enjoy the selections from the staff. Check the napkin your drink is served on for a cheeky surprise.