There’s a riveting story behind how in six short months the original Mikkeller Tokyo bar came to be ØL Tokyo, forcing the Mikkeller brand in Tokyo to become, much like the gypsy Mikkeller brewery, a roving pop-up bar without a permanent home, at least until resettling a year later in Shibuya.
I hear this harrowing tale of deceit from Hamilton Shields, one of the key actors in the made-for-beer-tv drama, while cradling a cold can of Evil Twin Retro IPA in a packed bus bound for Setagaya from Shibuya. We had just sourced our roadies from Akira Hirano at Liquor Shop Hiranoya, but something about the look of two nose-to-nose white guys on a crowded local bus sipping tallboys of IPA willy-nilly on a Thursday night keeps us from cracking them.
Nobody wants to be “those guys” in such situations. You know, those douchebags.
It’s a shame, because by the time Shields has finished the story he looks like he could use a beer. I would need one, too, if that was my story to tell, but it isn’t, so I won’t, especially since it’s off-record and I’ve only heard one side of it. Sorry to leave you in suspense. Perhaps Shields, general manager at the newly reopened Mikkeller Tokyo, will share it with you at the bar if you’re that curious; maybe you can glean the gist of it yourself.
At our stop there was a brief game of Twister to untangle ourselves from the 13 salarymen with whom we became intimately familiar on the bus voyage, then the tallboys made quick work of us during the short walk to Small World Records & Cafe. It’s our second go on Shields’ makeshift tour of small Tokyo beer bars, one which I soon realize just happens to start near his office and end near his home. Smart man.
In a town famous for its teeny-tiny bars, Small World Records manages to stand out as one of the, well, smallest that I’ve seen. There are three stools at a little wooden bar, behind which owner Tomonori Tanaka spins vinyl, brews tea, and pops caps on bottled craft beers. Ten different brews are available when we visit, most of them Japanese—a Shiga Kogen IPA, an Ise Kadoya stout, a Hansharo American pale ale—and two others from The Commons Brewery in Portland, Oregon. Tanaka hopes to have a tap system up and running soon.
A few small racks of new handpicked vinyl line the walls behind the small bar, and that’s it, nothing else to it, except for Hoover, whom once upon a time Fate connected to Tanaka at a Shibuya pet shop. Hoover takes up more figurative space than anything here. This little French bulldog is everywhere—on the cafe’s business cards, all over its Facebook page, starring on its Instagram feed, peering into your soul and weighing your life’s good deeds and bad as you polish off a bottle or two of Hansharo.
In short, Tanaka runs the business, but Hoover runs the show. Small World Records is Hoover’s domain, and his domain is everything one could hope for in a small Tokyo beer bar. We’re lucky he shares it.
Small World Records & Café is located at 5-30-6 Taishido, Setagaya, Tokyo. +81 3 5787 8806. Open Tuesday – Friday 6pm – 10pm, Saturday 12pm – 10pm, and Sunday 12pm – 6pm. Closed Monday.
>> Next Read Part I: In the Shibuya Backstreets, an Ex-Salaryman Taps a New Life
>> Then Read Part III: Japan’s Brewer as God Syndrome, and Mikkeller Strikes Back