Kiki’s Pub is a tiny blues bar tucked in behind Exit 1 of Toranomon Station. For 16 years, it has hugged the edge of a small cluster of nomiya (drinking spots) stranded between big streets and surrounded by homogenous rows of office blocks. When I called for directions, I was told to find the #10 Mori Building, but in this kind of identi-kit neighborhood, it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.
When I called the second time, the owner, Ed Stauffer, answered the phone. He didn’t have to tell me he was from the Bronx, but I did have to tell myself it was NOT Robert De Niro on the other end of the line. Ed even looks a little like the actor, as he likes to point out. Dressed in blue jeans and a black Hobgoblen T-shirt exposing the odd tattoo on his forearm, he could have walked off the set of “Cape Fear.”
Ed has the reserved, self-assured manner of a native New Yorker, which involves being laid-back and on edge at the same time. After growing up in the city, he joined the marines. “It was either that or jail,” says Ed. At the end of four years, he re-emerged with a better set of job options — ironically, these included working for the NYPD. After a couple of years patrolling the boroughs, he moved back to Japan to live with Kimi, his partner of 25 years.
When Kimi’s father complained about his ailing coffee shop, the pair stepped in. Kiki’s Pub, as the shop was renamed, now caters to a steady flow of regulars culled from the offices nearby, who slip in to sip a caffeine-free single malt or beer. The bar seats eight at a pinch and another 10 would fill every seat. Even so, Ed used to host live nights (now he dreams of opening a bigger place).
The blues play nonstop on the stereo. Convoluted names like Jerry “Boogie” McCain and Nelly “Tiger” Travis are usually uttered when someone asks who’s playing. The walls are lined with photographs of Ed posing with blues legends, like Taj Mahal, B.B. King and R.L. Burnside. Ed is also well-versed with the local blues scene. Both Japanese artists (like Shunki Kikuta) and foreign (like Otis Rush, who also married and settled here) are among his friends.
Just as I was settling into a customized program of blues appreciation, Ed’s keitai rang. “Hi, de Ed man,” he said, in his typical phone patter. “What? Two planes? The World Trade Center?” Suddenly we weren’t just listening to the blues, we were feeling them . . .