In Japan, since so many people who love cute animals live in apartments that don’t allow pets, you can find cafes that’ll let you relax in the company of everything from owls to bunnies. The most common and widely documented are of course cat cafes, but what do you do when you’re craving not only a little feline companionship, but also want something a bit stronger than a cup of coffee?
Simple: you head to the cat pub in Tokyo.
Located on the Seibu Ikebukuro train line, Ekoda Station and the surrounding Ashigaoka neighborhood don’t draw especially large numbers of visitors. It’s just another six minutes to Ikebukuro Station, where they are far more dining, shopping, and entertainment options.
Ashigaoka does have something Ikebukuro doesn’t, though, in the form of a unique izakaya. Somewhere between a bar and ordinary restaurant, izakaya offer a wide range of alcoholic drinks and a selection of small plates of food to pair with them. What they usually don’t have is a group of cats roaming about, but that’s exactly what you’ll find at Akanasu.
Akanasu opens at 6 p.m., slightly earlier than many of the other izakaya in its neighborhood. On the day we stopped by, we were the first customers to arrive, and no sooner had we opened the creaky wooden door than we received a warm greeting.
At the top of the stairs leading up to the dining room area was Chi, Akanasu’s “head of business operations.” Encouraged by her hospitality, we made our way upstairs where we didn’t see any other diners, but did find a few more kitties.
With its soft lighting and potted plants, Akanasu at first feels more like a retro-style coffee shop than a pub, but rest assured, there’s a proper izakaya menu, which includes such offerings as a mixed hors d’oevre plate for 700 yen) and baked cheese doria for 750 yen. Cocktails start at 450 yen and a glass of white wine is 500, both pretty reasonable prices for Tokyo. There’s also a two-and-a-half-hour all-you-can-drink deal for 1,999 yen, which gives you plenty of time to get tipsy enough that your hiccups will synch up with the surrounding meows.
The real draw isn’t the menu, though, but the five-or-so cats that mill about Akanasu each day.
“I don’t really look like a cat person, do I?” asked the good-natured owner, Koyanagai. Honestly, we’d say we have to agree with his self-assessment, though we could easily imagine him being the proud owner of a handful of Great Danes.
In actuality, though, there’s never been a time in his life that Koyanagai, who’s now in his 60s, hasn’t owned a cat. His family already had one when he was born, and as he got older, Koyanagi and his wife began taking in cats from animal shelters. For some of the animals, this was supposed to be a temporary arrangement, but the couple found themselves becoming attached to the creatures, and ended up giving them a permanent home.
Koyanagi says he’s drawn to the capricious nature of cats. True to his word, even though the animals spend time in his place of business, they aren’t compelled to work. Signs inside the restaurant ask customers to refrain from grabbing the cats or coercing them into playing when they’re not in the mood. Whether the cats interact with the customers is entirely up to them, as evidenced by the few we noticed nonchalantly taking cat naps while we ate our meal.
The signs also caution against feeding the cats from your own plate. Instead of people food, Koyanagi has cat treats on hand for them, and he gave us a handful to help us make friends with his pets.
We’d been having so much fun, we didn’t notice that by this time the restaurant had filled up with customers. Koyanagi says that he’s had patrons come from as far away as Aomori Prefecture, several hours north of Tokyo even by Shinkansen.
As a matter of fact, Akanasu is so popular that Koyanagi recommends calling ahead and making a reservation if you’re planning to come on the weekend. Slightly inconvenient, sure, but a little bit of planning ahead is worth it if the payoff is a cold beer and a warm snuggle.
Restaurant information Neko Bar Akanasu / 猫BAR 赤茄子 Address: Tokyo-to, Nerima-ku, Ashigaoka 1-77-2, second floor 東京都練馬区旭丘1-77-2 2F Telephone: 03-6915-3166 Open 6 p.m.-12:30 a.m. Closed Mondays Twitter @Cat_Bar_Akanasu
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