This might not sound like a good thing, but Beat Cafe is one of those rare boozers where you could say more about the toilet than the bar itself. The four walls and ceiling of the bathroom are adorned with scrawls from many of indie music’s finest. Look, that one was scribbled by a member of Hot Chip. And there’s Soulwax, and The Album Leaf, Jason Mraz, Nisennenmondai, even Holy Fuck. Musicians from all of these outfits have used the facilities here. Let’s just hope they washed their hands when they were done.
Located at the far end of Center Gai, Beat Cafe is the sort of tiny bar that seems to survive purely on word of mouth. It helps that the manager, Katoman, moonlights as a music promoter and is well respected on the indie fringes. This enables him to lure celebrity musicians such as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs alongside a steady stream of Japanese and Western music lovers.
See, it’s not really about the drinks at this place. With plain old Suntory beer on tap (¥650) and just a smattering of interesting spirits (Zubrowka Bison Grass vodka, Four Roses bourbon, a few tequilas), you won’t find anything that isn’t available elsewhere. The mixers are rarely top-notch, either. The Moscow mule, for example, is made with horribly sweet ginger ale and lime cordial—not exactly a high-class cocktail.
It sure ain’t about the decor, either: tap the wall and a nearby lamp flickers briefly off. The food’s all right—green curry (¥700), “taco rice” (¥750), pasta (from ¥700), kimchi and something called “tortilla chips doggy style” (both ¥500)—but that’s not what keeps the punters coming back. And we’ve never seen anyone even look at the Jenga set, let alone take it out and play.
No, Beat Cafe is more about the music, and the conversation it inspires. ’80s pop videos and live performances filmed for British TV show Later… With Jools Holland play on a mute screen, as a totally unrelated selection of New Wave, Britpop, punk and pop tunes pumps out of the speakers—on a recent visit, we were treated to Bow Wow Wow, PJ Harvey and Iggy Pop. The staff cue these up on a laptop behind the bar, focusing more attention on their virtual DJ session than on serving drinks.
For a music fan, this close connection between the staff, the regulars and the tunes they love makes Beat Cafe a fun place to drink—simple as that. And if the conversation does begin to fade as night turns to morning, just remember: there’s always the toilet.