June 19, 2009
Time Out Café
The listings bible hopes to conquer Tokyo—but can it conquer Liquidroom?
Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on June 2009With magazines everywhere from Beijing to Bucharest, the question probably isn’t so much why Time Out would come to Tokyo as why it’s taken them so damn long. As the venerable mag gears up for an autumn launch here (details are still hazy at the time of writing), they’ve opened a low-key bar and diner in the space formerly occupied by Tower Café, on the second floor of Ebisu’s Liquidroom.
Fashioned in a self-consciously New York-loft style, with skylights and an open kitchen, this is an appealing spot to grab a coffee or a few post-work drinks. The low seats and tables are perfect for slouching, and if you’re looking for something to flick through, bookcases at either end of the room house Time Out books and slightly ratty copies of editions of the mag from around the globe.
As if to show how seriously they take their NYC shtick, Time Out Café also has free Wi-Fi (remind me again: why is this still such a rarity in Tokyo?). When we arrive, the hipster across from us is fiddling with his MacBook, and there’s a group of trendy marketing types huddled around a laptop at one of the larger tables. The atmosphere remains pretty chilled until later in the evening, when members of the band that were playing downstairs earlier in the night pile in for a post-gig knees-up.
Time Out Café is open from lunchtime, so it’s no surprise that the menu affords as much space to food, tea and coffee as it does to booze. Still, we’re pleasantly surprised by the tipples on offer, including draft Hoegaarden (¥700) and Chimay Blue (¥750). Red and white wine is available for ¥500 per glass, with bottles starting at ¥3,000—though you’d do better to splash out and get something nicer, like the Trebbiano di Romagna Vigna del Rio white (¥4,500). The cocktail selection, starting at ¥600, is a tad predictable.
If you’re feeling peckish, the food menu ranges from pickles (¥400) to focaccia sandwich (¥850) to such left-of-center creations as “Japanese-style dry curry naan pizza” (¥650). We order a plate of spicy potato fries (¥500) that are so heavily laced with garlic powder they leave us glad we didn’t bring a ladyfriend. Had we done so, she probably would’ve insisted on one of the desserts, which include soymilk cheesecake and rum chocolate gateaux (both ¥550).
There’s a lot to like about Time Out Café, then, but much like its predecessor, it can’t quite shake the feeling of being on borrowed space. You have to walk through the upstairs of Liquidroom just to get in, and during our visit, the café’s unobtrusive click-techno soundtrack is intermittently blotted out by the sounds of a DJ sound-checking next door. The payoff, of course, is that if this was anywhere else in Ebisu, you probably wouldn’t be able to get a seat on a Friday night. The garlic breath, on the other hand, might be easier to come by.