by CJ Waggon

CHARLIE JAKE, the Mikado’s gone!” It was Joe on the horn. He’d come back for a visit and wanted to go look up an old friend at the Mikado cabaret. Famous place, it was, back in the ’60s and ’70s when Akasaka was hoppin’ more than a gunny sack full of Mexican jumpin’ beans.

“Well hang on there, amigo. I’ll be right down to help you look.” I was in the area, and was going to meet up with him a bit later anyway. “Now where you at?” Back then Joe and I was workin’ on a side project being run out of a small office somewheres in the U.S. embassy, which was new at the time. Akasaka was just a hop and half a skip away, and we’d start hittin’ the bars and cabarets around opening time, between five and six, before the salarymen would file in a few hours later.

“At the corner of the little road that goes to the front entrance of the Mikado. Except now I can’t recognize anything. The whole building’s been rebuilt!” screamed Joe into his mobile, sounding more surprised than he was at Tet. “Little place, green sign, foe garden!”

Anyroad, both Joe and I lived in the same Homat in Uehara, round the corner from where Steve Parker lived. Decent neighborhood, lotta American families there now. Joe and I would run down the hill and go jogging in Yoyogi Park on the weekends. One time he stopped to hear one of those Japanese guys practicing his saxophone under a bridge, started up a conversation. Guy’s name was Hideo and he spoke a bit of English.

“Foe? How ‘ya spell that, Joe?”

So Joe and Hideo got to be friends. Hideo was in the house band at the Mikado. This was around ’78. Hideo wore this little Latin-lookin’ vest, blew sax in this 40-piece band. Those were the days. Joe loved jazz, so one day Hideo got him in the back door, so he could sit on a stool on stage left behind the curtain and hear the band.

“That’s P — H — O, Charlie, that how you say it?”

So Joe goes there a few more times, then Hideo introduces him to the piano player. Cute little stringbean, she is. A few years older than Joe, and damn near as tall. They go nuts over each other, so Joe winds up going there most every night.

“Pho’s your Vietnamese noodles in soup, Joe. I go there lots — be there in fifteen, max.” I wasn’t surprised that the Mikado’s gone, but had to chuckle that Joe holed up in one of my favorite grub spots in Akasaka. I love this place, been open only a year or two. Lot’s of lean grilled meat, raw vegetables, rice noodles and overall it’s some of the lowest fat chow on the planet. Them Vietnamese folks sure know how to eat well without puttin’ on the pounds.

I show up and see Joe through the window. I go in and order my favorite, Bun Heo Sao and a Goi Kun roll on the side, then go over and shake Joe’s hand for the first time in 25 years.

Pho Garden
2-14-1 Akasaka, Sanno Kaikan 1F, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Tel. 03-5114-0747
Daily 11am to 11pm.

Bun Heo Sao, grilled meat and raw vegetables on rice noodles, no soup, ¥880.

Mekong Whiskey, neat or on the rocks, ¥550.

On the outside deck when the weather’s nice.

¥1,500, day or night, is as much as you need to spend here.

Salarymen, Asian bar hostesses, touts, riff-raff, old Texans.

Don’t matter. You order at the counter, go sit down, they bring the chow.