Looking for some spiritual guidance along with your Martini? This Tokyo bar run by Buddhist monks has you covered.
Vowz Bar, located in the Nakano section of Tokyo, is a unique oddity in the ever-odder world of concept bars. Holding court in front of a wall of whiskies and sakes, monks in traditional garb mix up cocktails such as the Perfect Bliss and the Infinite Hell.
In a sprawling metropolis of nearly 14 million, this warmly lit, 23-seat watering hole features no karaoke, no hostesses and no television. What it does have, though, is the occasional spontaneous burst into chanting, along with complimentary monk consultations. In a way, this Buddhist bar in Tokyo has returned not only to 16th century Japan, but to the old American masters, who proselytized the role of the ideal bartender as stoic listener, confidant and giver of advice.
Yoshinobu Fujioka, a Buddhist priest by day, has run Vowz for fifteen years. Though it has mainly attracted interest for its apparent novelty, the former boxer instead traces his bar’s lineage to ancient Japan and its connection to the present. He explains that imbibing with monks “was a common thing in the ancient Muromachi era, when people would gather in a Buddhist temple and drink together. We’ve just updated the tradition to fit our times.”
A few drinks, he notes, will do wonders for making connections with customers, helping break down the walls people put up living in the biggest city in the world.
Matt Merkin is a writer and photographer currently based in New York City.