Where literary chic meets gayborhood bar.
Apps or bars? Bookstores or the web? Okamalt, an unassuming bar cloistered in a back alley near one of Ni-chome’s busiest spots, is an interesting way forward: combine all of them! What emerges is an unmistakably cool and intellectual bar, and if there is anything the LGBT community stands for, it’s reinvention.
Walking in, you are instantly greeted like family by the presiding “Mama-san,” or bar owner, Ogura-san. Doing double-time as bartender and conversation mediator extraordinaire, his infectious gleaming smile hovers over everything. Once you start talking to him you might want to listen all day. Ogura’s past as an editor of a gay magazine called “Badi” (now out of print) and as a drag queen called Margarette (she still performs, and you can catch her at the infamous “Department H”) have left him with a lot of stories.
Though the bar is only open for the first half of the week, you can think of it is as a lovely kickoff to a weekday Nichome night. Ogura welcomes international travelers to his bar with an open heart, which is something that cannot be said of all of the small bar owners in Tokyo’s premier gay district or elsewhere in Japan.
A rare opportunity to see an “off-the-beaten-path” side of the LGBT community in Japan.
Ogura-san’s career hints at the type of books stacked along one of the walls of the bar. It is a diverse group but well-curated, ranging from erotic photography to children’s books to back issues of old Japanese gay magazines, including Ogura-san’s own publication. (Unfortunately, none of the volumes are available to be sold at the moment). While not a huge collection, you could nevertheless spend hours looking through it.
Most of the books are in Japanese (Okamalt does have a few English volumes), but don’t let that stop you from picking one up and leafing through it while popping questions to Ogura-san or your fellow bar mates. It is a guarantee that you’ll leave having learned something new about LGBT life in Japan.
There’s something truly sublime about having a strong, well-made cocktail in one hand, a book in the other, and great conversation buzzing around you. For those who enjoy all these things, or even just one, Okamalt is for you. It’s also a rare opportunity to see an “off-the-beaten-path” side of the LGBT community in Japan, one that is a little less boisterous and rowdy maybe, but also one that just might feel closer to home.
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