Leaping headfirst into Tokyo’s world of underground dining and drinking sounds undisputedly kick-ass, so kudos to the New York Times for getting the story. But more interesting than the details of where to eat and drink on the sly (and why people go to great lengths to ferret out what often are, in essence, dive bars) is the story’s thesis that Japan’s prewar spirit is coming back—at least in a culinary way.
Before World War II, Tokyo was filled with these pocket-sized dives—called nomiya (counter bars)—with space for just six or seven stools. Behind the counter was a proprietor, whose role was both confidant and caregiver to the regulars. When the city was rebuilt, however, most were bulldozed in favor of larger, glossier, more Westernized offerings.
Now a younger, postwar creative class is reviving nomiya culture—with a decidedly modern spin.
The longing for an experience more authentic, more communal, and more chic in an old-school way is something that most thinking people in modern industrialized cultures have felt. We commend the chefs and bartenders of Tokyo for actually doing something about it.