In a world in which everything conformed perfectly to stereotype, all rock bars would be grimy dives that hadn’t been properly cleaned since the last Nirvana album came out. The music would be loud enough to render meaningful conversation obsolete, the toilets crawling with cockroaches, and the bartenders—irrespective of gender—would be heavily pierced, tattooed and (preferably) missing a few teeth.
You certainly wouldn’t find anywhere like Stay Up Late. This is a rock bar for people with sensible haircuts, a spot where salarymen can head after work to nurse a glass of bourbon and reminisce about how much better drive-time radio sounded in 1989. It’s a place to unwind, enjoy some good music, and not get too carried away: a polite notice on the website requests that “customers who are dead drunk, extremely noisy, given to singing and dancing or who generally upset the mood” kindly take their business elsewhere.
Thankfully, the vibe turns out not to be nearly as prudish as you might expect. Heading there on a Wednesday night, we’re greeted warmly and soon find ourselves embroiled in a conversation with some tipsy businessmen on the finer points of New Wave and stadium rock.
Proprietor Yuji Okumura opened the bar in 2003, fulfilling an ambition that he’d been nurturing since he was 15. It probably took that long just to acquire the 6,000 CDs that line the shelves behind the bar, arranged alphabetically to ensure that he can zero in on albums in a jiffy. Customers are invited to make a music request with each drink they buy, so our first beer is accompanied by David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes,” while the whisky chaser earns a blast of “Enola Gay” by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Large posters for Erasure, Heart and Simply Red give some idea of what you might expect to hear on other nights, while Okumura cites The Cars as his ultimate band of choice.
Rockers, however straight-laced, are creatures of simple appetites, and the drink menu here is tailored accordingly. Bottled beers start at ¥700, with Bass Pale Ale and Boddingtons wedged alongside the more familiar faces. We soon find ourselves straying towards the harder stuff, though, getting a generous double of Ballantine’s for ¥1,000. The conversation really starts flowing after that. Other bourbons and whiskies on offer include Maker’s Mark, Laphroaig, Bowmore and Old Grand-Dad, with prices for a single running from ¥700 to ¥1,200 (and ¥1,000 to ¥1,800 for doubles). There’s a conservative selection of cocktails, all of which cost ¥800, while soft drinks are ¥400 a pop.
Having gone to Stay Up Late expecting it to be desperately square, we leave feeling rather content. It certainly makes a welcome change from the snack clubs and yakitori joints that crowd the streets around Shimbashi station—just one that’s more likely to appeal to people of a certain musical persuasion.