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Gattaca, a utopia of good selections

by Jude Brand

Baar Gattaca is reasonably easy to find — thanks to the blaring red banners of the bar next door. But, just to avoid confusion, the entrance is immediately to the right of this garish splash of red — straight down the stairs to the basement. There, you will see the bar’s name on the door and the tag “Now or never utopia” scrawled across it in thick white brush strokes — like rough graffiti. But don’t worry about the “members only” bit — that’s just to scare off the weak at heart.

The master, Yoshimitsu Fukui — whom everyone simply calls Boy (derived from Bowie, which is pronounced “bo-i” in Japanese) — is a seasoned bartender. His adventures in mizu shobai (the “entertainment” world) began two decades ago at the legendary Bar Aoyama, where he worked for 10 years before opening his own place, the Aoyama Social Club. After five years there, he packed it in and headed for Europe. But, like a pigeon, he eventually came home to roost and, since he has, he opened Baar Gattaca almost two years ago.

“There’s no deep meaning to the name,” says Boy. “I just liked the movie.”

But the subtitle smacks of striving to realize one’s dreams against the sometimes overwhelming odds of predilection. And Baar Gattaca is a fitting last stand for someone who has done just that. Though the bar is small, Boy has made good use of every inch of space and, at the same time, somehow also managed to make the room feel large and uncluttered.

With a bit of red paint and some photocopied wallpaper, he has created a stylish environment worthy of any interior designer. A large and very comfortable black sofa fills one corner. And an awkward nook has been fitted with a long bench and table — in the hands of someone else this space might have been wasted. A small table made from a chess board sits in front of a charming mock mantelpiece, above which hangs a small photograph in a huge frame lit on either side by a couple of goose-neck lamps. These are simple scraps of furniture that Boy has put together to create a stylish interior accent.

The bar counter is also covered in the same unique wallpaper. And a huge infrared lamp — from a medical supplies store — sits clamped at its center. It is big and chunky and looks like an obscure industrial machine part — both simple and fantastic at the same time.

Baar Gattaca is possibly the best-stocked hole-in-the-wall on the planet. One glance at the range and quantity of spirits lining the shelves behind the bar is enough to attest to Boy’s professionalism as a bartender.

“Many of my former regulars are settling down and don’t go out as much anymore,” Boy confided. “My generation is changing.”

And though he may lament this change in terms of its possible effect on his business, I don’t think he has anything to worry about. On a random Monday night visit, a large group of 30-somethings piled in through the door and took up residence on the couch. A young solo drinker, obviously a new regular, pulled up a stool at the bar and looked settled in for the night. And that did not include our small reunion of mates from 20 years ago. The waves of change will always batter the shore, but, somehow, I think Boy will ride them out.

And speaking of change, one of the best things about the digitalization of music — besides the iPod — is the laptop computer. Boy has his installed behind the bar and, with the help of i-Tunes, all his music is instantly accessible. But he also keeps a small selection of 12-inch vinyl and a turntable on hand for appreciating some of his more obscure back catalog. Music is, after all, a strong glue for binding people to a bar. And Boy has got lots.

Baar Gattaca is very hip and very personal. Even famed party designer Chiga Ogawa pops in here sometimes to unwind.

Baar Gattaca; Towa Aoyama Building, B1F, 2-8-9 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; tel: (03) 3499-5252; Open every night from 8 p.m.-5 a.m. (sometimes closes at short notice, so best to call first). Table charge 500 yen per person. Draft Guinness and Sapporo 700 yen. Cocktails from 800 yen.

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Bar Valley offers the Lloyd Wright life

When party organizer Chiga Ogawa turns her hand to creating a bar, the result is extremely high chic, to say the least. Recently opened Bar Valley is sophisticated in every way — from its location opposite the leafy West Gate of Aoyama University to the service, which includes a complimentary freshly roasted walnut and a sip of exquisitely delicious Nocello liqueur for every customer on arrival.

Taisuke Higuchi, who designed the interior, was given one working model — Frank Lloyd Wright. The famous American architect’s Edgar J. Kaufmann house “Fallingwater” in Bear Run, Penn., was a particular source of inspiration, providing the clean, simple lines and natural materials that are found throughout.

That inspiration even extends to the new venue’s name, which describes Fallingwater’s setting in a small river valley.

The bar is a long sleek expanse of wood that leads your eye to the piece de resistance at the center — a mock fireplace framed, from floor to ceiling, in rough-hewn brick. Opposite the bar, another long stretch of wood is set into the wall at bench height and is topped with black leather cushions. Comfortable armchairs and small hexagonal side tables fill the corners.

In addition to the hot plate slowly roasting walnuts, there is a freshly racked leg of Pedro Hieto prosciutto on the bar, ready for carving at 1,400 yen a plate. The drinks menu begins with champagne and features everything from a glass of Moet Chandon for 1,400 yen to a bottle of Dom Perignon for 65,000 yen. The whiskey is mostly single malt and upwards of 12 years old. An extensive range of red and white wines from a selection of countries, including Argentina and Greece, round out the menu. The first half dozen wines featured are available by the glass. A short food menu features such delights as “Chicken Liver Pate with Bread” for 900 yen and “Valley Style Oxtail Red Wine Stew” for 1,900 yen. Just reading through the lists leaves you feeling pampered.

The plate-glass windows overlooking the street are tinted, the lighting low, and the atmosphere hushed and music unobtrusive. The clientele includes artists and musicians and many more from the ranks of Aoyama creators. And should someone super famous happen to drop by, a small VIP area has been created on the far side of the fireplace, complete with a private bar.

Lloyd Wright would have felt right at home.

Bar Valley; 2-2-6 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; (03) 6419-9599; www.bar-valley.com; Open each night from 8 p.m. till 4 a.m.; No table charge, but a 15 percent service charge is added to the bill.