Thai one on for old times

Food & Drink - January 16th, 2004
tokyoweekender_Aroyna Tabeta

by Charles J. Waggon

Couldn’t remember a damn thing. I was comin’ to, and it was white as a blizzard, only brighter. I made out the wall arching to the ceiling. Yep, Quonset hut. White walls. Bare light bulbs in cages. Young female voices. Talkin’ Thai, Hmong, or what, Shan Burmese? My eyes rolled from high noon down to ’bout 10 o’clock, still hard to focus, but looked like a crew of slim Asian nurses; white duds, pointy caps.

They must’a thrown some hard rice, amigo, real sporty. Didn’t catch the Golden BB, though, still in one piece. Don’t hurt no place ‘cept a little headache. Likely been a Huey dust-off got me to this MASH. But where? Thailand or Laos? Finally heard a familiar voice.

“Wooo-wee, Charlie. You been out, old boy. Years catchin’ up on yuh, huh?” It was Luke, the pilot. Guess we took a hit, lost the plane.

Sat up and saw six Asian nurses, chowin’ down off stain­less mess plates. They looked up, and one of ’em said, “Ohayo, Mister Charlie!” One by one, the rest started giggling.

My peepers could finally focus now; got a good look-see. This weren’t no Quonset hut, and I ain’t in no MASH. White walls, bare light bulbs and spe­cially the nurses got me all disori­ented. There’s my pilot buddy Luke – but this wasn’t 1969, and we didn’t bail outta no airplane over no jungle.

Instead, it’s way past 3 a.m. in Tokyo, and I just woke up in a 24-hour Thai joint with six Asian bar hostesses and one crazed ex-pilot high on nostalgia, bourbon and Thai food hot as blazes.

So here’s the story. Ol’ Luke was a pilot for that airline what got no stewardesses, no cocktails, no mileage club. Back during ‘Nam, we’d fly all over Southeast Asia, haulin’ pallets of spook gear I’d set up someplace.

Come R&R, Luke always picked Tokyo. Lotta nights we’d swap tales at the Golden Gate out Azabu way. ‘Course that’s if Luke wasn’t at Mama Sachi’s. Luke had a thing for her. Cute little filly, sharp, ran one lively hostess club in Ginza near Ketel.

So last fall, outta the blue, Luke e-mails. “Meet me at Mama Sachi’s, Dec. 12, 1900 hours, sharp.” Hoo-wee. Luke’s first return to Tokyo since Nixon bailed out.

Back then, Mama Sachi looked about 24 to Luke. Didn’t have no idea she was at least 10 years older. Which now puts her ’bout my age. No doubt the club’s long gone, Mama Sachi’s in a rocking chair.

Anyroad, a little recon the next day, and the club’s still there. Ready and waiting for Luke.

Come the Dec. 12, there’s Luke at the bar, lookin’ lost. Sachi’s in a rest home. Running the joint now is daughter Yuka, bit north of 40, sharp like her mama. Times changed now, Yuka says. Customers spend way less, and Japanese hostesses want big pay.

So Yuka’s got a crew of real beauties from Southeast Asia. Tonight’s Nurse Night, all the ladies wearin’ nurse outfits, them white caps. “Times are tough, gotta have a gimmick,” Yuka sighs.

So Luke and I jabber about old times, get nostalgic and do a search-and-destroy on Yuka’s bourbon. The ladies like our stories about their hometowns, way before they’s born. We close the joint, and two “nurses” ask us to join them for Thai chow. Four more tag along, ready for more stories.

Six gorgeous young nurses, and two old coots could’a only been their geri-ward patients. Tromping over to Yurakucho, middle of the night. Bet that raised more than a few eyebrows.

The Thai place is just past Yurakucho Station, under the tracks. What a sight. Looks like a Texas diner drawn and quar­tered, half the front shoved into one of those brick arch­ways, neon stripes still blazing. Inside, the ceiling curves down to the floor, Quonset hut-style. Sign’s hard to read, but I make out “¥600, Thai food, open 24 hours.”

Luke tells the ladies, “You order, I pay.” The chow lands quick, and each arrival sparks a feeding frenzy among these hun­gry homesick beauties. We get grilled pork with Thai basil, chicken in green curry, fiery tom yum goon soup, shrimp and egg­plant curry, seafood salad with hot peppers, fried noodles and a big grilled fish covered with spicy sauce. One lady says it’s pretty dam close to street stall food back home. Not fancy, but filling.

Me? After all that food on top of all that bourbon, I must’a passed out. Luke said I leaned over on some stools, and they just let me sleep while finishing dinner. Already told you how I woke up.

I go back a week later and, sure enough, everything is just ¥600, except for the big fish what cost ¥1,800.1 was alone, but for ¥600 I got a whole meal with grilled meat, curry, greens and rice. This ain’t your gourmet Thai, but for good and cheap, 24/7, CJ sez one thumb up.

This funky Thai chow joint's hardly bigger than a boxcar

Aroyna Tabeta
3-7-11 Marunouchi Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Phone: 5219-6099
www.tabeta.com/yurakucho/
Open 24 hours