Okto-beer-fest Time in Tokyo

Food & Drink - October 3rd, 2003

by Charles J. Waggon

Yeeeeeehaw! It’s some seri­ous beer drinking time, folks, and I’ve already got a head start on you. Now early fall, that’s my favorite time for beer drinking-summer here’s too hot, and too much beer will warm you up and make you sweat like a pig. Summertime, I stick with your tall drinks — a gin and tonic or a julep. But come September, I do what the Germans do and wrap my hands around a stein and just gulp it down. Ahhhhh.

As I write this it is late September, and I did my own Oktoberfest around town for this column. Most of you don’t know that Oktoberfest in Germany actually starts in September. They got their calendars mixed up, some decree of some old king or something; doesn’t really matter. September is soon enough for cool, creamy beer. Especially the kind what they drink in Germany. Bring it on.

Now, I’m somewhat of an Old Timer here in Tokyo, been in and out of here so many times. So I head for the old joints, like München in Ginza. It was open when I got here in 1953, so they must be doing something right. Back then they got no German beer in Tokyo, but Sapporo Lager did just fine.

Sure, there are other more “authentic” German places in Tokyo: Ketel and Lorelei and Bei Rudi, but they’s all too expensive and got fancy-priced food, when all I want is some beer, sausage, potatoes and ‘kraut. No reason why that stuff’s gotta be expensive, and that’s why I like München.

So I head there the other day and what the jumpin’ jiminy, it’s flat out gone. In its place is a thing called Duffy’s Irish Pub. Well, it was zero-hour for beer, so I head down for one. Lucky they still got Sapporo Beer, and that’s what I had, along with a plate of fish and chips. Big mis­take. Looks like nobody here’s been anywhere near Ireland or England; the cod’s got breading thick as a helmet, and made with breadcrumbs like tonkatsu.

Despite the fact they got Guinness, this Duffy’s is about as Irish as St. Pat’s Day in a stateside bar, what with them green foil shamrocks everywhere and horsepiss Yank beer with green food coloring in it. They sure don’t put food coloring in Guinness; stuff’s as black as the ace of spades. Don’t get me start­ed about theme bars-just get me out of Duffy’s.

Next stop is my favorite German place in Tokyo – Bernd’s Bar. Now, Bernd is no ordinary German, he’s a third-generation German bar man. His daddy ran a joint, and so did his daddy. He’s out of Dusseldorf, married to a fine Japanese woman, and they got one swell place in Roppongi where you hear more German spoken than anything else. Bernd’s got all your German beer – my favorites are Jever on the light side and Klostritzer on the dark.

If you don’t know what your favorites are, then you gotta have one of each until you are sure. Pay attention or you’ll have to repeat the process. Don’t you hate it when that happens? The food at Bernd’s is also the real deal – the prices may look high, but wait till you see the size of the plates. Order one thing at a time, or you won’t have any room in your tummy for more beer – and what’s the point of that?

Next up, we walk about 10 minutes to Zum Einhorn, a classy little German joint run by the same folks who have the more famous Kreisel restaurant in the German Culture Center behind the Canadian Embassy. Zum Einhorn has a bar where you can stop for a beer if you don’t plan to dig into the serious German chow they serve.

The great draw here is the Heckt Shlenkerla Marzen, a rich, slightly smoky-tasting beer from Bamberg, Germany, where they specialize in making beer from smoked malt. Don’t ask me why. This one’s a winner with smoked sausages.

They got all kinds of other good German beers, too, and food that’s even better. Zum Einhorn is in the same building as Daimler-Chrysler Japan, the Mercedes-Benz folks. That should tell you something.

Finally, for you couples out there, head straight for the German Farm Grill in Shibuya. They import Spaten, Franziskaner, and a passel of other German beers, and serve it to you directly. Get the Spaten dark, 8%, and you’ll soon feel like pullin’ on some lederhosen and getting out your accordion. They also got tasty food, more pan-European than just German.

They got a working fireplace, but you’ll have to wait a few more months before you feel like being near it. So why’d I recommend this place for couples? ‘Cause it’s on the uphill end of Shibuya heading out of town, only a block or two from the largest collection of no-tell hotels in the known universe. Charlie Jake sez check it out, and (wink, wink) pack your tooth­brush.

Bernd’s Bar
5-18-1 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo Tel: 5563-9232

Zum Einhorn
1-9-9 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo Tel: 5563-9240

German Farm Grill
8-1 Shinsen, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo Tel: 5457-2871