Get the Royal Treatment at the Old Imperial Bar

Food & Drink - November 21st, 2003
tokyoweekender_Old Imperial Bar

by Kumiko Matsuda

The setting for our ren­dezvous today is a real Tokyo classic, the Old Imperial Bar on the second floor of the venerable Imperial Hotel in Hibiya. I might add the Rendezvous Lobby on the second floor traverse is where you can overlook the spacious ground floor lobby from its comfortable sofas.

Legend has it the original Imperial Hotel, designed by noted American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, stood come, unbroken, after the Great Kanto Earthquake on Sept. 1,1923, the very day of its completion ceremony. Sadly, the original hotel was rebuilt into larger quarters in the early 1960s.

Now, the only place where we can still get a glimpse of the original Imperial is in the Old Imperial Bar, the decor of which has been created with stones, facades and other fea­tures saved from the original building. Frank Lloyd Wright was a man with a strong desire for conquest of not only space, but also the people who would gather in it.

The desire? Well, for those who grovel, his architecture has very low ceilings. Yet within the dimmer interior this creates, amid the greed and lust of Tokyo, the Old Imperial Bar still maintains a decent and civil ambience. There is no room for ditzy young girls transfixed by the latest installments of Deep Love, a novel designed for dis­play on cell phone networks.

Should you happen to date one of these girls, you would be better off meeting in the Imperial’s top-floor Rainbow Lounge, along with all the other “avecs” on their dates. There is a great panoramic view of Hibiya Park, certainly a way to melt the coldest of female hearts.

The Old Imperial Bar was most renowned in the 1970s and 1980s, with regulars including the executives of top-ranked firms, presidents of universities and other lumi­naries. Seats at the long count­er bar were informally “reserved” for regulars who would drop in at the same time every evening.

Glasses would be placed quietly at the edge of the halos created by the spotlights above the bar, and bartenders would immediately sense the mood of each regular patron. For sure, the spirit of the tea ceremony is alive, but here you don’t need to rotate your glass before each sip of your drink.

This sort of hospitality is the living, breathing keystone of why this bar is nearly always full. These days, there are all kinds. Once I even saw a youngster on one of the sofas, clad in a scruffy T-shirt, order­ing one beer after another.

The Tinkerbell, one of the Imperial Hotel’s four original cocktails, was named after Disney’s Marilyn Monroe. It is served like a Martini straight up, but made with white rum, peach liqueur and violet liqueur, garnished with a green mint-flavored cherry. One of the Disney artists who drew Tinkerbell, Mark Davis, was so taken with it that he would always drop in when staying at the hotel. Once he even left a signed drawing.

Jean-Philippe picked the perfect time to meet here, between 2 and 4 in the after­noon, the most peaceful time. I order a Tinkerbell, while Jean-Philippe’s choice is a Bombay Sapphire Martini, straight up, one olive, one onion. I must admit the two glasses, glistening under the spotlight, made a lovely couple on the table in front of us.

We also received a small dish of peanuts and rice crack­ers. Quiet luxury, but look— when we left, the bill was only ¥2,800. That’s not much more than two pints of Guinness in a rowdy Roppongi bar.

Again, I can’t help but wonder why on earth some of the men I have met insist on meeting me in those kinds of places. A good hotel bar is so much more relaxing for girls like me who work all day long.

Where did we go from there? That evening, Jean-Philippe and I had a huge jumping lobster for dinner in their top-floor restaurant. Just when he murmured under his breath, “Why did he cut it before he grilled it,” the cook took out another huge lobster, wet and wriggling, and cooked it whole for us. Jean-Philippe explained the cut before cook­ing causes the succulent juices to run out.

Establishments of this cal­iber still believe in meeting every desire of the customer as their first priority. It’s the same generous attitude you always find in the Old Imperial Bar.

Then again, I do wonder if the lovely Imperial Hotel did that for Jean-Philippe as a courtesy reserved only for their overseas guests. Is it that only gaijin are allowed to swim freely in the gorgeous soothing pool that is the Imperial Hotel?

As we left the hotel through the cathedral-like lobby, it was so nice to walk softly and cat-like on the great lay of thick red carpet that extends throughout the hotel. Just the two of us, emerging through the grand entrance and into the dark, warm, intoxicating Tokyo night.

Old Imperial Bar
Imperial Hotel 2F
1-1-1 Uchisaiwai-cho
1-1-2 Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Tel. 3504-1111
Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to midnight

External Link:
Old Imperial Bar