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Cantina

Posted in Beer on 2008-04-01 12:58

Matsumoto castle

"Cantina," the sign said, next to a staircase leading up to the first floor. We looked at each other, wondering what sort of place this might be. Not knowing what to make of a place from the facade had been a constantly recurring problem for us in Japan. In other parts of the world this was not an issue, but Japan is different. Eventually, we shrugged, and decided to give it a try.

At the top of the staircase was a door, which just as I reached it was opened by an elegantly dressed man in a black suit and white gloves. He bowed and showed us into a very small, dimly lit bar tastefully done out in dark wood. The only seating was black leather stools along the bar. Quiet quality jazz was playing, and the whole thing looked rather like a bar out of a film noir set in the 30s.

We were quite obviously the only guests at the moment, but kind of liked the vibe, so we sat down. The menu contained a single craft beer from the Yo-Ho brewery in Nagano, which I of course ordered. It was deftly served into cut glass whisky tumblers on white napkins by the gloved waiter. Then he set down the bottle. He looked at us. We looked at him, slightly uncomfortable at being the only guests and sitting at the bar staring at him with nowhere else to look.

Slowly a conversation started, and we discovered that he spoke enough English that we actually could talk to him. Which we duly did, happy to for once have found someone who spoke enough English for this to be possible. Clearly talking to the waiter was part of the purpose of the bar, which, we now realized, must be some sort of upscale izakaya. After a while the music stopped, and the waiter went over to the end of the bar to turn the LP record on the record player. This must have been quite an expensive player when it was new, which was probably in the 70s.

View from the castle

Suddenly, the waiter broke off the conversation with an "excuse me" and rushed off to the door to let another guest in. Presumably he had some kind of closed-circuit TV to warn him of approaching customers so he could open the door for them at just the right moment. The new customer was a early-middle aged woman in a black evening dress with black satin gloves reaching to her elbows. She appeared to know the waiter, and while they chatted I rated and finished my craft beer, feeling slightly out of place, and wondering if perhaps we were not a little underdressed for this place.

Their menu showed nothing more of interest, but knowing that menus are not to be trusted we asked if they had something more, explaining that we were interested in tasting ji-biru. He hesitated a little, then told us that he had three more. These were really his own beers, and not for serving in the bar. It turned out they were from the Shinano brewery, owned by a friend of his, and he'd been meaning to try them to see if he wanted to put them on the menu. We agreed that he'd sell them to us, but that he'd get a small taste of each, and so I rapidly tasted my way through all three. They turned out to all be very good, and we didn't hesitate to tell him so.

We stayed for quite a while, chatting about the beers, the brewery, skiing, his home town of Nagano, Norway, and so on. Eventually, we left, carrying brochures about Shinano, and wondering about Japanese service.

In case you were wondering, this was in Matsumoto, in Nagano prefecture. In theory, the place has nothing to draw tourists other than its castle. In practice it's a very pleasant town, in a quiet laid-back sort of way.

Castle moat







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Comments

rho - 2008-04-04 14:22:25

Very atmospheric and I like the details.

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