AMS+, a bar that feels like home

Quiet, laid-back, unassuming, cozy… these are some of the words that I would associate with AMS+
While researching good spots for watching live sports games, I came across an entry for AMS+ in my restaurant/bar guidebook for Arakicho (いまこそ行きたい!荒木町). I had never heard of  or even seen this place before, but this description was too intriguing to ignore “There is a spacious area that could be your friend’s living room”. This is something I had to check out.

2018-09-04   Arakicho, Araki-Cho,


Your friend’s living room

The first challenge was finding AMS+. For once, Google Maps wasn’t helpful, as the map location was somewhat off. We walked down Gaien Higashi Dori Avenue from exit 3 of Yotsuya-sanchome station, crossed the street in front of Motsuyaki Nonki (now with a menu in English), and made our way back up the other side. Somehow we completely missed our destination, and nearly ended back at the station. Carefully retracing our steps we finally spotted a small, unlit sign informing us that AMS+ could be found on the 2nd floor. Looking up, we could make out a wide window showing a dimly lit interior that may, or may not have been a bar.

 After walking through the door on the 2nd floor (on the left), I found myself in what seemed like somebody’s living room – a bookshelf, armchairs, and a coffee table, all bathed in a soft light. No bar counter and no bartender could be seen, just as described in my guidebook. Suddenly, the bartender, whose name we later found out is Keisuke-san, popped out from between the wall and the bookshelf. We said we preferred to sit at the bar, so he led us around the bookcase to the counter that was initially hidden from view, parallel to to bay window.

 I went for a glass of shochu, a kind of Japanese spirit, on the rocks. Keisuke’s recommendation “Sato no Akebono” 里の曙 was very easy to drink and I took to it instantly. I asked to see the bottle and was surprised to see that it was made on the Amami islands, part of Kagoshima prefecture, but located closer to Okinawa. The bottle claims that although black sugar (“kokuto” 黒糖) was used in the manufacturing process, the final product contains zero amount of sugar – I’ll drink to that! Anthony had draft heineken beer before joining me in a 2nd glass of shochu. We enjoyed some senbei crackers with our drinks, courtesy of Keisuke-san.

The living room at the entrance of the bar.

 I can’t tell you why this bar is called AMS+

 It was still early so we were the only customers. Most regulars tend to arrive after 10pm when they are done with work, although naturally the place is busier on Friday and Saturday nights. AMS+ is open from 8pm to 5am every day, so it’s one of those places where you could while away the night in one of the comfy chairs in the “living room”, in case you missed your last train. Having the place to ourselves gave us an excellent opportunity to chat with Keisuke-san.

 He has been running AMS+ for about 10 years, with the help of 2 part-time workers. We asked what was the meaning behind the name of the bar, and he replied that, when he took over the bar from the previous owner, he also took over the name but never found out the meaning of the 3 letters followed by a mathematical symbol. So the origin of the name is lost in time, and the 4 characters could stand for anything (it could make for a good drinking game). He also inherited the bar as it is now, with the living room in the front, so he couldn’t explain why it was designed in this intriguing manner.

 Eventually the conversation drifted to the Arakicho neighbourhood. Being an Arakicho long-timer, Keisuke was able to recommend plenty of bars and restaurants that we hadn’t heard of. He turned out to a great ressource and his unassuming laid-back manner meant that he never dominated the conversation, so we were able to ask plenty of follow-up questions.

The bartender, Keisuke-san, taking our order.

Soccer matches, live music and darts…

Time flew by and suddenly a couple of regulars trickled in. They joined the conversation, in Japanese and in English, and the conversation drifted on to other topics, with a World Cup friendly match playing on the big screen at the head of the bar. AMS+ seemed like the ideal place to catch late-night sporting events if you are sports enthusiastic traveling in Japan.

 AMS+ also has a darts board if you want to try some sports yourself – it’s located near the entrance in the living room space. If you are musically-gifted, you can also borrow a guitar and play a few tunes to entertain the other drinkers. The Tabelog site (a website that reviews restaurants in Japan) also shows a photo of a piano, but when I asked Keisuke-san about it, he said that it was long gone (presumably kept by the previous owner). In fact, a lot of the information on Tabelog was outdated, and the listed AMS+ website no longer active. However Keisuke-san didn’t seem overly concerned by it. Probably he is content to keep his place a secret and hidden for a while longer.

 The bar also has a menu of light dishes that Keisuke-san can cook up for you if you are feeling peckish. The dish names are scribbled onto a blackboard in Japanese, so if you can’t read Japanese, you might want to ask for a recommendation by asking “osusume wa nan desuka”. We ended up eating some very tasty fried bean sprouts with kimchi. In the end, our experience at AMS+ perfectly matched the rest of the description in my guidebook “a hideout that doubles as a playground for grown-ups”.

Kanpai! Enjoying shochu at AMS+

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AUTHOR

David

David

Writer / Translator

I’ve been in Japan for over 10 years although it feels shorter because I am constantly discovering new things and new places. Sometimes it can be hard to get the full Japanese experience because of cultural differences and linguistic barriers. For that reason, I want to share what I have learned in order to enhance your experience in Japan. Having said that, figuring out stuff on your own can also be fun. In any case, I hope you can find here whatever you need in order to make your stay a success.