I missed my last train home from Never Never Land last Saturday. It happens. This Shimokitazawa institution plays weird tricks with time: one moment it was just after midnight, the next it was 4am and I was hitching a taxi ride to Koenji with a couple of newly minted acquaintances. The intervening period involved dancing, rambling conversations, generous quantities of Heartland beer and an impromptu piano recital. I know all this mainly because I’ve got the photos to prove it.
In a neighborhood whose reputation proceeds—and frequently exceeds—it, Never Never Land is the real deal, a focal point for a community of regulars, stragglers and newcomers who manage to be bohemian without any of the unfortunate hipster connotations that the term has come to acquire. It’s a bar that isn’t so much pure Shimokita as what I wish the rest of Shimokita actually was: loose, shaggy, fizzing with creativity, mildly unhinged. Not for nothing did the grassroots campaign to save the neighborhood from a pointless, bureaucracy-driven construction blitz start here.
Never Never has been going for something like 33 years now, moving to its current location in the mid-noughties when its original building across the street was demolished. It settled into the new digs pretty quickly, and the place now carries the patina of somewhere decades older. The walls are a patchwork of photos, fliers and posters for concerts and underground theater shows; the performers in question are often regulars themselves. Gigs are held on a semi-regular basis (full disclosure: I’ve played in a couple), but you’re just as likely to catch a ramshackle jam session between customers in the small hours of the morning.
The bar counter is crowded with bottles of spirits, shochu, awamori. Save that for later and start with a Heartland—draft (¥500) or bottled (¥600)—then get to work on the food menu. The grub at Never Never is pretty decent, and if you’ve missed dinner or just have a late-night craving, you’ll be able to satisfy it without having to nip out to the local convenience store. Okinawan staples like goya chanpuru (¥600), “taco rice” (¥700) and umi-budo (¥400) feature heavily, and you’ve got to love a dish with a name like naku ko mo damaru (literally, “will silence a weeping child”) Sri Lankan curry (¥800). If you’re ordering the latter, just be sure to accompany it with a bottle of the excellent, Ceylon-brewed Lion Stout (¥600).
Delving deeper into the drink selection, you could try some Rurikakesu rum from the Amami islands (¥600), though I’d probably stick to the Havana Club 7 Year (¥700). Shochu starts at ¥500 and is available with a range of mixers, from Hoppy to tomato juice and milk. Awamori is also an option, and there’s plenty of it here (from ¥500), but it’s one that I’ve resisted thus far. It’s always a pleasure to float away to Never Never Land—I’d just like to come back to earth sooner or later.