I’m a cocktailer: cosmopolitan, Jack and Coke, Cape Cod and the like. When it comes to beer, I actually disdained it until I spent some time in Mexico, where I developed a palate for ice-cold Negra Modelo. Utterly delicious, yet I’m sure the baking hot sun through which I had to walk to sit in a cafe with lazily whirling fans, mosquitoes buzzing about, dogs lounging at my feet and no air con for miles, heightened the refreshment factor, but that’s just hearsay.
When Dan suggested a beer garden evening, I vacillated between resignation and anticipation. I willingly drink just a few brews around town. (Of course I have unwilling habits, seen as downing four martinis in an hour—which actually qualifies as a skill—but such feats are often performed in the line of duty, so one might call them giri-martini.)
I prefer Hobgoblin’s seasonal Santa Claus and Kirin’s Honey Brown, available each winter in select pubs and this summer in your local conbini, respectively.
Pre-departure, I had resigned myself to the fact that, no matter where we went, neither of my personal choices would be on the menu, and I’d have the dull pleasure of eating izakaya cuisine outside during rainy season. Whoopee!
Yet amid these morose thoughts, snatches of easy laughter and witty conversation would waft through my conscience like a good, hearty beer belch. Tender recollections of evenings shared with outrageous cohorts in these barley pastures prompted me to perk up on the notion.
As it turns out, I fretted for nothing. Dan unwittingly took me to a garden sans the beer. I had a lovely time and a light night to boot with only three Bloody Marys—an excellent source of vitamins. (Dan’s recently gone vegetarian two days a week, so I thought I’d jump on the health food-bandwagon.)
Our destination, Hanezawa Garden’s The Terrace Restaurant, is about as much a beer garden as I am a size six. With backlit lush, green vegetation and big Polynesian torches blazing all about, it put the “P” in paradise on a muggy summer evening by delivering a thoroughly gaijin-friendly, yet fully Japanese experience—Japan in the new millennium, that is.
For the record, The Terrace is neither a bar nor a beer garden, but an outdoor restaurant replete with artfully placed carp pools and waterfalls. Come, relax and bring your wallet. Dan and I spent more than ¥10,000 in an hour and a half on drinks and appetizers. Docated smack in the middle of a Shibuya-ku Bermuda Triangle, it’s hard to find but well worth the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Leave the women at home. That’s the secret to enjoying a Japanese beer garden.
What other explanation could there possibly be for my five years of frustration at these Tokyo summer mainstays? Despite testimonials from friends about how much fun beer gardens are, they never quite lived up to the hype for me. I wrote them off as another overrated Japan experience, such as Tokyo Tower, Noh or SMAP.
Now that I’ve seen the light, I’ll have to live with the memory of all those wasted evenings and come to terms with the fact that I somehow managed to mess up the seemingly foolproof: Cheap, cold draft beer outdoors on a rooftop high above the summer swelter on a pleasant evening.
At first I thought it was the elementary school field trip atmosphere that bothered me. And indeed, there is much to dislike about dozens of salarymen running about like Boy Scouts on their first camping trip. But now I know that was a mere diversion.
My awakening began the moment the Weekender Brew Crew (John, James, Tim and the prophetically named Gardner) invited me to join them at the Kudan Kaikan Beer Garden. I knew instinctively this time things would be different—that I would have to confront my painstakingly cultivated cynicism. The promise of a long-legged waitress in a bunny outfit no doubt had something to do with it. But there was more than that.
My previous garden experiences had been with Gia and others of the fairer sex at Hanezawa Garden, Tokyo Dome, department store rooftops in Shibuya and Shinjuku, and Sapporo’s institution in Ebisu Garden Place.
To be fair, all these places were either terribly generic (the department stores), dirty and unfriendly (Tokyo Dome) or just too damn romantic (Hanezawa). Still, was it just a coincidence that I had been with women every time? No sports talk, no male bonding, no all-you-can-drink package, no ogling of women in fishnet stockings.
All of these were available in spades at Kudan Kaikan and, lo and behold, I just happened to have a whale of a time. Of course, it helped that Kaikan had marginally better food than the average beer garden, a drink-till-you-drop option for only ¥2,000, and a setting overlooking Kitanomaru Park and the Budokan.
Adding icing to the cake was unseasonably pleasant weather, a boisterous but not unruly crowd, a section where patrons could pass out and lie on the ground unobtrusively, Gardner’s odes to the elegant white crane in the moat below, and a bunny girl with no qualms about sitting on my lap.
Could I have enjoyed all that, I mean really enjoyed it, if I had been with Gia? Something tells me the waitresses wouldn’t have been quite so friendly.
Gentlemen, we have nothing to lose but our chains. Beer Gardeners of the world, unite!
Hanezawa Garden’s The Terrace Restaurant
3-21-15 Hiroo, Shibuya-ku
open till mid-October
Hours: Daily 5:30-10:30 p.m. (last order 9:30 p.m.)
www.plandosee.co.jp (Map available online)
1-6 Kudan Minami, Chiyoda-ku
Near Kudanshita Station, Exit 4
Hours: Daily 5-10 p.m. (last call 9:15 p.m.)
Gia Payne is an editor, writer, self-preservationist, and devoted Tokyoite. And she co-wrote a book about bars, pardon ‘pubs,’with some guy named Dan.
Dan Riney has spent years honing his bar-researching skills worldwide. He currently hones in Tokyo, where he works for a newspaper and an economics think tank.