Theme bars in Japan can be overdone to the point of becoming cartoonish. So when we heard that a New York-themed jazz cafe and grill had opened in the basement of a department store, of all places, we rolled our eyes. However, we quickly changed our minds when we learned that the new pub was run by the same folks behind Aoyama’s Blue Note jazz club. Determined to see if a Tokyo bar called Brooklyn Parlor could really live up to its name, we headed to Shinjuku-Sanchome to find out.
We were pleasantly surprised by an interior that wasn’t overtly fake or antiseptic. The space is partitioned into intimate sitting areas by unfinished wood bookshelves, while the painted concrete floor and wrought-iron fixtures give it the atmosphere of a reconverted loft apartment. When our group arrived, two small tables were pushed together to seat us, and looking around, we understood why most of the tables were so petite: most of the other diners were Japanese couples on dates, basking in the soft lighting and jazz soundtrack.
We glanced over the casual but respectable wine list, hovering at around ¥4,000 per bottle, but we already knew what we were going to order. Our glasses of draft Brooklyn Lager (¥700 regular, ¥900 large), the drink from which the bar takes its name, had a wonderful amber-gold color, and the first sip revealed a hearty malt flavor with a slight caramel finish. Just two decades old, Brooklyn Brewery employs techniques pioneered by the New York breweries of the late 1800s, and serves as a good riposte to the commonly held belief that all American beer is watery and tasteless.
Looking over the food menu, we were tempted by the cocotte of the day (¥1,700), lamb stew, which is served in an oven-hot pot at the table. However, we tried the signature Brooklyn burgers instead (¥1,200 plain, ¥1,400 with cheddar, ¥1,500 with blue cheese). The default here seems to be medium-rare, so specify if you like your meat with more pink in the center.
The fries were lightly sprinkled with freshly cracked black pepper, and a side order of what appeared to be coleslaw filled the Americans in our group with a swell of nostalgia for authentic diner food. Our hopes were dashed when the first bite revealed this to be chopped lettuce in milky mayonnaise, making it the only flaw in our otherwise hearty meals. We washed these down with Hitachino Nest White (¥700 regular, ¥900 large), an Ibaraki-brewed ale with a refreshing citrus finish.
We also had espresso (¥550) that would pass muster with the average New Yorker, but sadly were too full for the apple pie with ice cream (¥600). Still, there’ll be another time for that. As we left, we knew we’d found a new home away from home in Tokyo.