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VELOURS

The velvety allure of Aoyama

by Jude Brand

Aoyama is full of small, high-end hideaways where service is delivered in studied silence and conversations are reduced to a whisper.

Velours, a newly opened lounge bar and restaurant in Minami-Aoyama, is every bit as chic as its neighbors but is anything but small. It occupies a wide basement hidden well off the main street — even with a map it is hard to find.

The glass walls at the entrance are heavily tinted. Sliding doors open onto a bottom-lit hallway leading to the left and right — a linear Zen garden of grape clusters traced in sand under a plexiglass catwalk. A collection of gilt-framed mirrors — all neatly smashed — at first confuse the senses, but not as much as the rusting bear traps that lie buried here and there in the sand underfoot (don’t worry, they’re underneath the see-through catwalk).

The restaurant lounge, a split-level expanse of upholstered armchairs and couches set around tables, is a sight to behold. The catwalk cuts through the center of the room, shimmering like the landing strip for a night flight. Chandeliers glimmer overhead, marble and mirrored walls glow and crystal and chrome glisten.

To the right is the bar and VIP lounge. Here, too, all seats are upholstered — in this case high-backed stools with arm rests. And the entire bar and all the tables are covered in mock alligator skin. The VIP room is so well hidden behind the bar that you don’t even know it’s there. Life on the other side of the velvet curtain is a riot of design.

Every detail is rich kitsch — like the stuffed pheasant in a huge glass case at the entrance and the bison head looming over a marble mantelpiece inside. A vivid red sofa stretches into one corner and sits counterpoint to a thick expanse of booths covered in zebra prints on the other side of the room. The interior throughout is a collaboration between space designer Hiroyuki Masunaka and art director Daisuke Nakayama. And the overall concept for the space is the brainchild of Ing Styler, an Osaka-based company which was also involved in the launching of Kitsune (in Shibuya) and Orbient Lounge (in Omotesando).

While Velours is huge, comfortably seating 150-200 (and 300 standing), it is not aimed at big crowds. They are interested in quality, not quantity, and this not a cheap retreat — most food items on the menu are around 2,000 yen and most drinks about 1,000 yen.

“We want to get the right balance,” says Ing Styler’s press liaison officer Kouji Miyaoka. “We don’t want big parties. We would rather offer a few select people something special.”

However, after only a few months of operation, the lounge parties that they regularly host at Velours (featuring local DJs) have already grown in popularity. I even had to wait behind a velvet rope to get in mid- week. I guess I’m not the only person who likes the vibe here . . .

Velours, Almost Blue Building, B1F, 6-4-6 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo; tel. (03) 5778-4777; www.velours.jp/ Open 6 p.m.-2 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and till 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Minimum charge 1,000 yen per person.

And for a very limited time only …

Anyone living in Tokyo with ears or eyes will have noticed the launch of a new pre-mixed cocktail in a can called Sting. With Japanese rock guitarist Char as the drink’s campaign model, advertisements for the cocktail made a big splash in every media when the drink hit the shelves earlier this month.

But the marketers haven’t stopped there: They’ve also opened a bar — a reality ad as opposed to a virtual ad — where you can try and then buy the drink.

The drink itself is a tasty mix of vodka, grapefruit juice, bitters and wine pulp — a very dry, refreshing adult taste. And Bar Sting, which featured Char playing live at the opening, has priced the drink — and an assortment of imported and Japanese wines also handled by the promoter, including Wolf Blass from Australia and Woodridge from California (both Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon for all labels) — at the alarmingly low price of 250 yen per can or glass.

The space is temporary but has been made to look funky and aged, with oil cans for standing tables and an antique bicycle in the corner.

Kotaro Honda, the manager of this walk-in ad space, has also been hosting DJ events here on Friday and Saturday nights. The music runs the gamut. Coming up: Oct. 28 will feature a fashion show and music; Oct. 29 reggae; Nov. 4 electro/rock; and Nov. 19 DJ Bluesnik will spin for the last special event to be hosted before the bar closes at the end of November.