Thursday, November 12, 2015
A steep staircase (almost a ladder) on a dimly lit street called Nishikiyamachi-dori. Curiosity. Jazz from another era (another country for that matter) beckons me. Were this 1925 in New York or Chicago it would be a speakeasy. But this is not 1925 and this is not the States. Tagai is not a retro bar; it is not a replica of that time or those places. It is not even that old. The owner tells me he opened it eleven years ago. How he has created such a wonderful lived-in, wabi-sabi aesthetic in such a relatively short time is a Japanese mystery.
This 16-seat hole-in-the-wall izakaya reminds me of Tiki-Ti in Los Angeles for some reason. Perhaps it is the size, or the collection of figurines perched on the bar, or the warm patina of the aged wood, washi paper and hundreds of sake labels that cover the walls. As much as anything, it is the warmth of the man standing behind the bar. The hippest joint, the most chic establishment, the most famous or historic place falls flat if the staff is not friendly and inviting. In five minutes I felt as if an old friend were welcoming me home.
There are a million places in Kyoto, obscure and famous, yet to be experienced. I'm still digging.