Originally published in Metropolis Japan on August 22, 2016 (Link)
When I was a kid in Canada, going to grandpa’s meant playing dominoes, eating pie and ice cream, and watching blue jays hop around the bird feeder. As for music, gramps was a singer and a whistler–and a good one, too–but his repertoire was limited to standards, hymns, and a particular favourite about oat-eating mares.
In Shibuya, it seems grandfathers are of a different stripe.
A stone’s throw from Shibuya Station, Grandfather’s has a solid whiskey selection and a well-priced menu of snacks and small meals. But what makes the bar so special is the atmosphere. It’s the kind of place you’d conjure up a few drinks in: a dimly-lit hideout of rich, dark wood and the warm crackle of your favourite LP coming through the stereo.
It’s a decidedly vintage experience, but Grandfather’s delivers retro charm without the kitsch. Its cozy interior remains largely unchanged since the bar’s opening in 1971 and, like with a good whiskey, they’ve been wise to let it age. One floor below street level, the windowless, corridor-style room is flanked on one side by a long wooden bar with stool seating and a set of sunken banquets on the other. The low lights offer plenty of privacy, giving you and your date—or your drink—the chance to get close. As a bonus, it’s much less smokey than you’d expect for something underground.
Bar service is brisk with generous pours, and drinks are surprisingly cheap given the bar’s proximity to Shibuya. A good glass of Suntory starts at ¥500, with plenty of higher-brow options available should your wallet support them.
Staff are quick to answer any questions, but they’re not here to chat. In fact, it’s not the kind of place where much talking happens at all.
That’s because the centerpiece of Grandfather’s is the carefully curated supply of vinyl behind the bar. Forget the bartender; the rotating DJs are the one doing the mixing in this establishment, and they're working with top ingredients. Grandfather’s started out playing rock ‘n’ roll cuts from the ’50s and ’60s, and they’ve since filled out their shelves with funk, soul, and folk from the ’70s onward. Tracks are played one by one, so no full-album binges here, but you’re in excellent hands. A standard night might include selections from The Kinks, Dolly Parton, Bread, The Cars, Fleetwood Mac, and Dorothy Moore.
If you’re a bit of a spinner yourself, you’re in luck: the DJ is more than happy to take requests. They might not play it right away, but if they’ve got it, they’ll get to it.
But consider this: the mood in Grandfather’s is so perfectly crafted, so just-so, that it feels wrong to interject in any way. There's an unspoken code of honor in the air, shared amongst staff and patrons: I solemnly swear not to kill the vibe. The whole place feels like a dream you wake up from just when it gets good. Sure, they take requests, but the playlist is already smoky, sexy, and impeccably selected, so if it ain’t broke...
And forget about taking pictures. Nothing would end the dream faster than your iPhone’s faux-shutter sound. I snapped a quick pic of my drink on one of Grandfather’s cream-colored coasters (which seem to sport the same illustration they’ve had since the ‘70s) and immediately sensed not admonishment but disappointment from my neighbors.
Besides, spaces like this don't photograph well. If you’re curious, heaps of grainy, low-light photos are just a Google search away.
But it’s so much better to discover this place for yourself.