October 15, 2004 – 4am Russian Hostess Bar

We arrived in Roppongi around midnight, which meant that we were committed to staying out all night. As soon as we got out of the station, we were swarmed by the usual group of Nigerian touts trying to get us into their clubs. Phoala bargained with them like a pro. He is outspoken and not afraid to speak his mind – remember that for later on in the story.

We ended up stopping in a basement pub close to GasPanic called New York something – I can’t really remember. It was basically a narrow space with a long bar that served sensibly priced drinks. There wasn’t a lot happening inside, but it was a good place to keep our buzz going from all you can drink karaoke without going broke. The bartender tried to entertain us with some of those small metal sliding puzzles. They are difficult at the best of times, but as we were a few drinks into our evening they were nearly impossible.

The attractive female waitress, annoyed that we were spending too much time playing with the sliding metal puzzle, took it from the member of our group that she was obviously flirting with (not naming names here), and hung it from the cleavage of her low cut tank top. I quietly told him that he should retrieve it from her cleavage with his mouth, which he did. The effect was instant – she suddenly had lust in her eyes, grabbed my friend and started kissing him intensely. She then whispered in his ear that he should meet her in the bathroom in a few minutes.

Nobody in our group was expecting that kind of reaction, not least was the recipient of the surprise makeouts. Even though the waitress came onto him and he didn’t have a chance to escape, he felt guilty because he had a girlfriend. Realizing that nothing else good could come of a further stay in the bar, we settled up and decided to move along to the next venue.

Our next stop was GasPanic, which was completely packed even though it was after 1:00am on Friday morning. We hung out and enjoyed the cheap drinks. I had learned my lesson from a previous trip months earlier that the “you must have a drink in your hand” rule was not a challenge.

Somewhere after 3:00am we went to Yoshinoya for some gyudon. Yoshinoya is famous for gyudon, which is delicious grilled beef and onions with sauce on rice. Gyudon is delicious any time, but when you have been drinking for over 6 hours it is the single most amazing food ever. While in Yoshinoya we struck up a conversation with an Australian guy, asking him for recommendations for other places to go. At first he seemed pretty cool and helpful, but he kept badmouthing some members of our group when they weren’t listening. Taking this as a bad sign, we ditched him soon after we left the restaurant.

This is where the evening takes a strange turn. As we were standing around deciding where to go next, one of the touts came up and told us about a really relaxed, fun place that was a bit out of the way. There were no hourly charges, and the drinks were good. This sounded okay, so we started following him. I was a combination of drunk and tired, so I really don’t know how long we walked or in which direction. I do know that this bar was really, really out of the way. It was on the lower level of a large office building and appeared to be the only business still open in the area.

When we went inside, the first thing I noticed was that there were no Japanese people in the building. The bartender, the waitress, and the huge scary bouncer all looked Russian. Seriously, this bouncer looked like he lifted weights in prison for fun. All drinks on the menu were 1000 yen. Shortly after we ordered, the four of us were joined by four very attractive blond women who asked if they could sit with us. They were all from Georgia and Chechnya. The waitress walked by and “suggested” that we buy the ladies a drink. At that point I realized that we were in a hostess bar, and our evening was about to get really expensive. I wanted to leave ASAP, but two members of our group were single and were really enjoying talking to the women.

The drinks arrived, and we were all making small talk, when Phoala asked one of the women nicely if she liked working at the bar. She responded that she wasn’t working there, they were just visiting and wanted to spend time with us (not likely). Knowing BS when he heard it, Phoala told her she was lying, she worked there, and we all knew it. She insisted that she didn’t work there, and that she was just out for a fun evening and really wanted to hang out with us. Phoala again told her she was lying, and that he knew it. He did this much louder than the first time.

Japan is a very safe country, and you really have to be looking for trouble to find it. Being really drunk at a shady Russian bar off the main streets in Roppongi at 4:00am and yelling at the hostesses would probably count as “looking for trouble”. I quickly ordered another round of drinks for the ladies, paid the waitress, and dragged us out the door.

It was now close to 5:00am, and amazingly some members of our group were looking for another tout to find the next bar. By this point I was well and truly done for the evening. I said goodbye to the other guys, returned to Roppongi station, and waited for the first train of the morning so I could go home.

I took the Tokyo Metro to Shinjuku, and switched to Odakyu line to get home. I managed to fall asleep standing up, and woke up just before Noborito station. When I first arrived in Japan just over a year ago, I would not have been able to sleep while sitting down on a train. I got off the train and walked to the ticket gate. It was then I realized that I couldn’t find my ticket. I checked all of my pockets and still couldn’t find my ticket. I even moved off to the side, crouched down and emptied the entire contents of every pocket I had on the ground – still no ticket.

At this point I had two options: explain the situation to the station attendant, or “tailgate” behind someone else through the gate. It was now 6:00am and I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my communication skills, so I waited for the next big crowd and followed someone through the gate. The doors swung and smashed my kneecaps, but I pushed through and kept walking. Remember kids – it’s only okay to do this if you really, truly, honestly paid for a ticket. Don’t tailgate to get free travel.

After a long sleep I spent the rest of the day rehydrating and trying to recover from one of the most eventful nights of my life. Good times!

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  1. January 8, 2006 part 4 – Hanging out in Harajuku | Drinking in Japan

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