Urban Japan takes on a Bladerunner-esque look on a rainy evening, Chinatown in Kobe might have Harrison Ford running past any moment. Away from the bustle, purely by chance on a back street mooch around Motomachidori (Kobe) the Bitter End bar winks at me through spring drizzle. They are open, despite appearances. We slip inside. It’s the underbelly of a 1970s block but they’ve given small, boxy industrial basement vintage chic furnishings, a proper hi-fidelity audio setup, a sturdy bar and all the whiskey. All of it. These guys are underplaying it beautifully: they don’t even have a website. (They just about manage a Facebook Page. Just.)
We settle at the bar. Miles Davis’s muted trumpet leads the quartet. The lights are low. (The kids are at home in our Airbnb 50 steps away, so it’s a date.) It might be 3AM, but it’s closer to 9.
“Whiskey rocks and a G&T.”
Barkeep – proprietor – chisels an exquisite glassy boulder and splashes Suntory Single Malt on it. (When in Rome…) Tanqueray – iced with lime – and local tonic for her. He takes his time to craft us our drinks. A female vocal “The nearness of you” drifts from sublime JBL speakers.
Our neighbour at the bar engages us in conversation because he too has a G&T. The only other customers are, frankly, school age girls and I’ve a good mind to call their Mum.
In English, he says directly to me, with some difficulty in this part of the world it has to be said, matter-of-factly, that “you are Bruce Willis.”
(I am the only bald westerner in this Kobe bar tonight I’d venture. It’s dark and he’s wearing thick glasses.)
“You’re not the first person to say that. [To Gilly] Remember that carpet hawker in Istanbul who used that line to woo us into rug purchase?”
Thus begins a beautiful exchange in which our gently sozzled friend cannot get it out of his head that we are not Turkish. It’s amazing how alike the words Turkish and English can sound spoken by a Kobe local. Barkeep is a quiet, attentive man, a listener, a watcher: he can see the issue and is as amused as we are.
After several explanations I think we’ve established understanding. A silence breaks out in appreciation of Thelonius Monk caressing the ivories. Then…
“What food you eat in Turkey?
And so on.
As if scripted to step in and break the loop an ubercool dude in a slim suit with 3 day stubble and cropped afro slips in from stage left. (You don’t see stubbled men in these parts and he is rocking this look.) He orders beer.
He correctly establishes the presence of Welshness and associates it with rugby. We toast the Japanese showing in the world cup. We hang out. Quietly, gently, but with some style I’d venture. Melodic tenor sax, brushed drums and double bass. Out of nowhere G&T opines – eyeing the female patrons – that “Japanese girls too shy” with a level of disappointment bordering on mild disgust. The young ladies are fully made up, have made maximum effort with the dress code and are quietly enjoying cocktails. I start to wonder what goes on in here.
Barkeep intervenes. He intones that although our lightly pickled new friend may look adolescent he is indeed 40 and a cardiologist. The girls? Mid 20s. Our friend is drinking G&T alone because his wife is a radioligist and sleeping ahead of working a shift at the hospital. IE: It is all above board.
The ladies finish their drinks, smile shyly and gracefully depart before the spell of this place is broken.
So do we.
It’s barely 10PM. We could’ve stayed all night.
We’re like that, us Turks.