BEST OF PBIHT: Tokyo Tomato Part II
Continued from Tokyo Tomato Part I Entering Maduro I think the hotel receptionist phoned up to the jazz bar, called Maduro, because she didn’t quite catch my English, or lack of credentials. I was welcome, she smiled, if plastically, to go up to the fourth floor and take a look, though the bar wouldn’t open for another hour.
The elevator opened onto a wide sidewalk-like path, which ended at what I could only assume was the bar's entrance, a tall, heavy slab of polished tan wood set into the far end of an otherwise purely grey concrete structure. With no handle to pull or indication of where to push, I was much relieved when as I took the final steps toward it, the big hunk of wood slid effortlessly aside.
I found myself - the door quickly sliding closed behind me - in a dim, narrow passage. On the counter to my right, where I imagined the hostess would greet customers, was an old-fashioned desk lamp with green shade. There was a black curtain to my left blocking my view of most of the bar. I could see a sliver of it ahead, though, some plushy maroon chair backs, the small not lit stage beyond, a drum kit. There was the distant sound of a vacuum come on then suddenly turn off. I may have gotten a shiver. The darkened empty bar evoked Stanley Kubrick anxieties and I was just about to call out, somewhat Shelly Duvall shrilly, for someone when the manager, or probably the assistant manager, emerged so spookily, but somehow not threateningly, out of nowhere it was less like “The Shining” and more like a cartoonish villain from a Scooby Doo cartoon.
The short, thin man in his fitted black suit didn’t - how shall I put this? - seem to have participated in a great deal of love-making he was so stiff-backed. He barely even attempted to fake an awful smile, not missing the quality of my outfit, my hiking shoes. He waited for me to speak. I was a journalist, I explained. This was somehow less impressive to him than I may have hoped. I scrambled to think up some questions.
All I learned from this uptight little man was that the band went on at nine. I’d be coming back to see them, I explained. He pursed his lips, nodded. Did they have any discounts for journalists, special prices on drinks maybe? Did he know? He nodded. He was sorry. No.
At The Altar of the Single Malt I couldn’t have just left at that point. That would have been obvious. (Because thus far I had been sooo successful at fooling the man.) I asked if I could look round the bar.
He let me too, but only, I think, because it wouldn’t cost him anything. I pulled notebook from knapsack, clicked on my 105 yen pen and slow-walked around the windowless room jotting notes. I did this for as long as I thought I could
get away with it – five, six minutes.
I’ve since learned it’s damn near impossible to get a free lunch in Japan. In a land that is downright German in its love of uniforms and rules, I had yet to encounter a movie theatre usher who’d just let me in for free, no matter what the complaint or how subtle the charm. Where bureaucracy reigns supreme, there is little space for charisma (or a blatant disregard for the rules, for that matter). Before leaving Maduro I went up to the bar. Approaching it reminded me of the feeling one gets walking up the centre aisle of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome – a not dissimilar awe-inspiring experience. Of course, instead of Jesus and cross you got single malt scotches lined up in neat rows. There were also four giant champagne flute-like thingys hung high above, flames burning in each. Blocking most of a giant mirror behind the bar was a plant the size of a small tree. I nearly missed the bartender quietly working away amongst the grandeur. He seemed willing to answer a few questions. The Mojito was their most popular drink, a glass of 1947 Macallan was the most expensive at $420 a glass.
I was just about to go when a large Caucasian man entered the room wearing the kind of dirtied three-quarter length white coat that suggested he had either just come out of surgery or else he worked in a kitchen. I approached him because of his warm smile. His name was Franz. He was the executive head chef in charge of all five of the hotel’s restaurants. He was, with the soft (brown) eyes and confident belly of a good father, glad to talk to me. But could I come back a little later?
At 6:30 I was to meet him at The Oak Door, the hotel’s steak restaurant.
Read the final chapter in the tomato saga. A Japanese tomato has a more than likely chance of making an appearance.