I’m not going to lie, the idea of of a Gundam-themed bar sounded cool. As much as I try not to be a sad jerk when it comes to my fanboyish tendencies, a drinking establishment swathed in Gundam memorabilia staffed by young Japanese girls wearing limited-edition COSPA Gundam tshirts serving me various drinks named after characters and mecha from the Gundam franchise sounded cool. I figured as long as I had my limited-edition Zeta Gundam Playstation 2 and my Anaheim Electronics jacket, such a place would be worth a visit. I got my chance a few months after moving to Tokyo, when a friend was in town for a visit and we decided to check out the Gundam Bar.
The Gundam Bar is actually two separate establishments; a Zeon Bar and a Federation Bar. They’re located on separate floors of the same nondescript building on a backstreet in Akihabara (where else?). A recon sortie was launched in the afternoon to locate the building and double check the opening times. The days and hours the bars are open change from month to month, meaning you’re best off checking ahead to make sure they’ll be open when you’re planning on visiting.
Another friend (a girl, no less) wanted to join us on our adventure into the world of the Gundam otaku, so at 2000 hours (that’s 8pm, civilian) on a Saturday evening in late May, we signed up for the war against the Earthnoids. By that of course, I mean we chose to go to the Zeon Bar. While I have yet to check out the Federation Bar, I’m going to assume it’s pretty damn similar.
The girl working the door informed us there would be a 500yen seating charge per person, which isn’t uncommon in Japan and certainly not unexpected in a themed restaurant/bar like this. We agreed and she lead us to our table, which was right about when the disappointment set it.
I’m not really sure what I was expecting or hoping for, but Zeon Bar didn’t deliver. Maybe a large-scale Zaku II model or some employees in costume or drinks served in cups shaped like Haro. Regrettably, the realities of the Zeon Bar weren’t quite that amazing. The defining characteristic of the establishment’s Zeon affiliation was the red-painted walls, adorned with the yellow emblem of the Duchy of Zeon, and the COSPA shirts warn by the employees which all featured Zeon mobile suits. Add in a few random Gundam models and toys arranged on the shelves behind the bar between the bottles of liquor and Char’s Counterattack playing on a projection screen and that was the extent of the kitschy Gundam decor.
I’m well aware both of the Gundam bars were designed specifically to rid hardcore Gundam dorks of their money via overpriced drinks, but considering the size and popularity of the Gundam franchise I was expecting a place with a bit more effort and money thrown at it. The recently closed Sakura Taisen Cafe looked like a much classier place and even had a life-size replica of one of the mecha from the video game series and that was for a Sega strategy series no one has cared about in the last ten years. Sakura Taisen Cafe had a life-sized prop and Zeon Bar couldn’t even muster a Jumbo Grade Gundam.
I should also mention that the place was eerily empty; the only other customer in the bar when we arrived was a salaryman sitting at the bar making small talk with the employees. A while later another salaryman sat down at the bar as well, but aside from those two loners the bar was practically empty during the hour or so we were there.
The menu was photocopied and simple, although it’s contents managed to be hilarious. Nearly every food or drink item is given a name based on a Gundam character, place or mobile suit. The item’s actual description is written in small text below. Most of the names were seemingly randomly assigned, although there were a few inspired namings like the Dom’s Heat Saber (it was Pocky — think about it).
Our female friend was boring and ordered iced Oolong tea, while my other friend opted for the Zaku Tank (a whiskey high ball) and I went for the Dowadge Kai (a fruity cocktail). In an experiment to see how well our server knew the menu, I ordered our drinks by their Gundam names. One Dowadge Kai, one Zaku Tank, please. She didn’t even flinch. She and the rest of the staff found that amusing, I’m not sure if it was because it was unusual to order the drinks by those names or if it was just because a white guy was doing it.
Signs posted around the walls indicated the bar offered both a point card system and was available to be rented for events. I can only infer from this that there might be something of a regular clientele. I’ll fully admit that I’m a big Gundam fan, but after one distinctly non-alcoholic cocktail I was pretty confident I’d seen all that the Zeon Bar had to offer. Sure it might not be quite as lame as a maid cafe, but I can’t see anyone wanting to come back. The hardcore Gundam dorks visiting Tokyo might find it worth their time to drop in for visit, if only because it’s something you can chalk up to the “wacky Japan” experience. But really, it’s pretty lame, and this is coming from a guy who paid way too much for a Anaheim Electronics jacket that he never wears.
I’m going to assume the Federation Bar isn’t much different, just with blue walls.