t’s Thursday night in Tokyo, and I’m at a bar Googling the Japanese reaction to the Bob Hoskins-led Mario movie. How does the country that gave us gaming’s favourite plumber feel about this cinematic atrocity exhibition? It's a thought that's never crossed my mind in all my years murdering Bowser’s children until tonight when I saw the Japanese poster of the Super Mario Brothers film. It's not quite an epiphany, more like another detour at Tokyo’s Mario-themed bar, Star Club.
Near the movable drink-feast of Golden Gai, there’s a Shinjuku bar where you can imbibe Mario-themed cocktails, drift along Rainbow Road, do a half-dance in your seat to eclectic tunes, pull tissue from a Super Famicon box, smoke indoors, and of course, celebrate the impact of Mario too.
Originally known as Muteki Mario, the retro game bar changed its namesake after some legal persuasion from Nintendo. Unscathed, the bar continues to be an unabashed pseudo-shrine to Nintendo’s favourite son.
I got to spend about two hours there gawking at Nintendo paraphernalia, and mulling over Miyamato's jubilant face as he watched that film for the first time.
Red Star Zone
Pushing past its red door with a star hole, I'm immediately flanked by a blitzkrieg of Nintendo figurines and other memorabilia. While most of them are from the owner's own stash, some goodies are donated from passing patrons too. A soft, red glow that gently washes over the small bar, bestowing a soft Virtual Boy-palette.
Our laid-back bartender, Shiki, welcomes my girlfriend and I as we arrive pretty close to opening time at 8 p.m. Aside from the bombardment of Nintendo love, the most immediate feature to any new patron is its narrow size. On their site, it says they can accommodate about 12 people. And like other Golden Gai haunts, this forced closeness between drinkers is meant to inspire intimacy.
The modest bar stool provides some much needed respite after a day of wandering through the labyrinth-like Akihabara. We both order Mario-themed cocktails which end up quite sweet. I guess I thought the Invincible Mario cocktail would have been more of a Caesar-ish affair?
We learn soon enough that the music playing depends on the bartender on shift. As the night goes on we hear everything from Huey Lewis to Perfume.
Shiki also comments on our amusement with another poster that features the word, "Wii'd" with a stoned Mario underneath it. She says the the joke is often lost on locals who miss the narcotic context.
Along the bar, several pop culture figurines hide in between bottles. It's morbidly amusing seeing the juxtaposition of childhood memories next to liquor bottles and ashtrays.
Tequila Shots Vs Rainbow Road
After serving us our drinks, our barkeep hands us over some controllers too. What games and systems are available? Well, not explicitly naming what's on the menu here since it's a bit grey on the legality. Suffice to say, you won't be left high and dry if you're a Nintendo fan.
Soon enough, we're joined by more travellers who sought the place out upon reading of its legend online. Shiki sneaks in a cigarette as she watches the mad shuffling of controllers and quick introductions as an impromptu tournament unfolds.
The tight elbow-to-elbow space turns out to be especially conducive for couch multiplayer. A barcade meets dive bar, as it turns out, is a great combo. While it's not a bar where you know everyone’s name, you’ll get a chance soon enough to know who's the best Smash player.
There's an entry fee of ¥500 (drinks not included) and a slightly price-y drink list, but who can't put a price on making Miyamato proud by playing Super Mario Run in one hand, and taking a shot of tequila with the other?
The Lost Levels
Stay for a few rounds, and intriguing details emerge.
For one thing, the bar owner, Koji Hiyana, creates indie games too. “We never have serious deep conversations so I don’t know too much about game, but his studio is nearby,” Shiki shares. It's good to see that his indie aspirations and game bar business have long emerged past the pipe dreams phase.
I ask Shiki about the odd appearance of a Super Famicon Chrono Trigger on the bar shelves, but I learn that no one really plays it here since it would take too long. But, she tells me later on that Square-Enix employees often drink here after work.
I imagine there's been more than a few "Kampai!" toasts drunk to Miyamato's name in this room.
We have a game bar in Vancouver where you can’t officially play video games at your table due to some draconian liquor laws. Within an hour of sitting down, I got to sneak in sips of my fruity 1UP cocktail while being airlifted by Lakitu. That's all I ever really need from a game bar experience. Despite its hole-in-the-wall size, the reverence for Mario is undeniably gigantic. So if you enjoy gaming and drinking, slot out a night to make the pilgrimage to this bar when in Tokyo.
As for that critical consensus? Unsure, if the cheery reviews are part of some grand alt-reality game, but guess I'll have to return to find the answer.
BAR STAR CLUB
★ADDRESS 〒160-0022 東京都新宿区新宿3-11-1 高須ビル2F TAKASU BLDG. 2F 3-11-1 shinjuku, shinjuku-ku, TOKYO 160-0022 ★TEL 03-3354-2139