I was tipsy, sure, but so I should have been. I was nine-and-a-bit hours into a stay at the Bar Hotel Hakone Kazan, a Rubin’s vase of a retreat that can be viewed either as a bar-themed hotel or a hotel-themed bar. Throughout my stay it vacillated, sometimes resembling an inn with a drinking motif, other times a bar with beds.
The lines were blurring the moment I entered through grand doors fashioned from oak, and met Ryuichi Yanagi, a bartender role-playing as a receptionist. His front desk was a droll creation: a posh leather writing mat and fancy brass pen plonked, for the duration of the Champagne-fueled check-in process, on one end of a 13-meter teak bar counter.
Farther along the counter stood bartenders mixing drinks for guests who, on this Sunday evening, were nothing like the ragged barflies I was expecting. They were all young, female and had arrived in pairs. I had arrived in a pair, too, though my teammate had been anxious about the trip, worried she wouldn’t have adequate stamina. I was more confident. I had been training for it my entire adult life.