It was a cold, rainy November Friday evening when my Japanese friend, rock and roll and tattoo brother Kenny Shangrila took me to the Boogie Café in Yokohama. On my way from Bangkok to Chicago via Japan, I had a three-day layover in Japan where I would be hanging out with Kenny. After he had met me a Narita International Airport we hopped in his banged up and dinged white Datsun truck for the drive into Tokyo and Yokohama with Johnny Thunders blasting on the tape deck.
Boogie Café. The name alone conjured up images of the 1970s of platform shoes, disco balls spinning from ceilings and The Bee Gees.
However, nothing could be further from the truth when Kenny and I walked in there that November night three years ago. To be sure, as soon as I walked in, I felt as though I as though I had stepped back into time—back to some American diner in the 1950’s or early 1960s—judging from the posters, handbills, signs and other bric-a-brac adorning the walls and filling up every inch of space. It was the kind of place one almost expected to hear Bill Haley and the Comets, Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, or Eddie Cochran coming from a jukebox if there was one.
That’s okay, there’s plenty of classic rock playing on the sound system to satisfy any eclectic musical tastes. Knowing how much Kenny was a fan of Johnny Thunders, that’s what the bartender/cook/disc jockey played for us that night.
I’ve seen a lot of that when I’ve been to Japan. The Japanese are keen to what is cool culturally, especially when it comes to rock and roll and nostalgia. One of the greatest exports to Japan has been popular culture that the Japanese know how market and enjoy.
Back in 1989, when I was teaching English in Hamamatsu I went to this bar called The Ketchup Club—just down the street from where I taught. The owner modeled the bar after some bar he had visited when he lived in New York and everything was in English inside, down to the coasters and the napkins. He even had his friend back in New York record hours and hours of one radio station on a reel-to-reel that he played non-stop in the bar. You really did feel as though you were in bar back in the States, sipping imported beer, gobbling French fries, and listening to the radio.
As for the rock and roll ambiance at the Boogie Café, it is not without precedence. Owned by Mr. Chibo a legendary rock and roll and blues guitarist, who is often referred to as the “Godfather of Japanese Rock and Roll” – when he’s not meeting customers at the Boogie Café, he’s out playing with The Mojos a popular Yokohama rock and roll/blues band.
Even the menu was authentic that offered a standard fare of American diner favorites like burgers, and hot dogs served with a side of chips. Kenny suggested I order a burger and it was one of the best darn burgers I had tasted in a long time. Prices can be, for the lack of a better expression quite pricey in Japan, but not so at the Boogie Café where most of the food was a couple of bucks (under 1,000 Yen).
He joined us at our table where Kenny and I enjoyed some Dad’s Root Beer and our burgers. Having just spent the past two months in Thailand, he wanted to know all about my trip as well as check out my latest ink from Jimmy Wong. Kenny and I had met in Bangkok that previous February at Jimmy Wong’s first international tattoo convention in Bangkok and again in September. Nothing beats talking shop when it comes to rock and roll and tattoos.
The burger and the Dad’s went down well as did our conversation. It had gotten late, by now, Kenny had to drive back to Kofu (I would be staying in Tokyo) and we had a full-day planned for the next day (a visit to the Yokohama Tattoo Museum), so we bid farewell to Mr. Chibo; we would be back again soon.
As for the Boogie Café, well that was what you would call a real Boogie Night.
If you are ever in the Yokohama area and want a taste of what an authentic American diner has to offer, listen to some good tunes, and hang out with some cool people, the Boogie Café is a must. The café is located at Yokohama-shi, Naka-ku, Honmoku Makado, 20-1, Yokohama, Kanagawa-ken 231-0825. It’s small, so you might want to phone ahead (tel. 81-045-621-0990) to make reservations.