• SHARE

I first met Shunnosuke when he was a gangly 19-year-old art student. We both subscribed to the “give art the flick, let’s dance” school of thought. And we did.

In those days Tokyo’s cool night options were limited. In Shinjuku, where we both lived, there was Tsubaki House and Boogie Boy, but, for a while, the only place with true grit and longevity was 69 — which, as it happened, was our favorite.

Though we kept in touch, Shunnosuke surprised me one night by turning up behind the bar at Mix — a cooler-than-cool concrete bunker in Minami Aoyama. From there, he moved on to work at and manage a variety of Mix-sponsored projects, including MC1000 and both Catalyst clubs — in Roppongi (short-lived) and Shinjuku (better known). His first independent venture was Edge, an event space-cum-bar in Golden Gai, an area in Shinjuku with frail tenancy rights due to an ongoing struggle with a local developer.

Consequently, four years ago, as 69 was about to bite the dust, Shunnosuke found himself conspiring with Takashi, an about-to-be unemployed 69 bartender of some 10 years standing, to launch his newest venture: Open.

The result is a neo 69 for a new generation of art students on the lam. It even looks a bit like the old 69. It boasts the same Marley memorabilia, although in this venue it is tucked in and clinging to bigger slabs of red, green and yellow walls. The space in between is ample for a few tables and chairs while still offering a little room to move.

At Open’s core sits an impressive stack of speakers: six woofers, four mid-range and 24 tweeters, custom-installed by Gaxy, the founder of Desert Storm sound systems. All joy emanates in rays from this point. On a casual Wednesday night, the drummer from Little Tempo — a live unit currently spearheading a new front in Japanese dub — was spinning a smooth, obscure set. Ever heard of the Twinkle Brothers? No, nor had I, but I will never forget them . . .

Customers drift in and out, but mostly stay a while, especially on weekends. Open not only plays host to some of Tokyo’s homegrown, young up-and-coming stars — like Keyco, who recently debuted with a hip-hop vocal CD (you’d probably recognize one or two tracks from TV commercials that ran earlier this year) — but also members of a new generation of underground expressionists (a set of house congas are always on standby). Both sides vote in favor of Open as a good place to chill.

Shunnosuke is still a gangly string bean, but these days he prefers a beanie to a beret and his favorite possession is a sweat shirt signed by all the members of Aswad.

“I don’t drink,” he reminds me. “So this is the best way for me to meet people. I guess that’s what interests me most — people.”

I would have to agree. Tokyo’s post-bubble mizu shobai is all about people. And in a basement on a darkened corner, past the rock ‘n’ roll ramen joint on the far side of Shinjuku-dori, beyond Naka-michi, Open says it for me, too.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.