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Monday, May 08, 2006

【友人の店がJAPAN TIMESに載った】

■行きつけの店がTHE JAPAN TIMESに掲載されたというエピソードについて

僕の生息地域である自由が丘周辺は、中学生の頃から通っているトンカツ屋の「丸栄」(ここの味はこの30年間全く変わっていない!)をはじめとして、「飲み」から「食い」まで行きつけの店が何軒かある。

その中で、昨年の11月ぐらいからMY行きつけランキングの上位に入っていのが「LE CARRE BLANC」というスタンディング・バーだ。

Le_carre_blanc  20年来のいわゆる刎頚の友である桑野充弘がオーナーで、彼のパートナーであるフランス人のクリストファーが一人で仕切っている。

まぁフランス人がやっているから、一応FRENCH BARということらしい。

場所は自由が丘駅の正面口から出て直ぐ右手にある「自由が丘デパート」の4F。この自由が丘デパート自体がすこぶる古めかしい建物なんだけど、僕はこのBARが出来るまで、そもそも4階があるということすら知らずにいた。

とにかくほとんどのドリンクが500円。しかも、ちゃんと美味しいワインもグラスで用意されていて、仕事帰りにちょっと立ち寄るのに丁度良い。さらに、週末にはこの狭い店内でベリーダンサーが腰をクネクネ舞ったりするのだ。実に妖しいでしょ。

特筆すべきはここの客層で、クリスの人柄を表しているのか、ヨーロッパからアメリカ、東南アジア、オーストラリア、そして日本人と相当にミックスしている。ちょうど誰かのホームパーティに来ているみたいな感じで、みんなリラックスして楽しんでいる。

店は客が作るというけれど、この店はまさにその典型じゃないかな?

比べるのはどうかと思うけど、敢えて言うと、その昔80年代カフェバー全盛期に西麻布の交差点近辺にあった「TOMY'S BAR」と雰囲気が似ている。

当時はこの界隈に「RED SHOES」や「INK STICK」や「SIRIN」や「TOOL'S BAR」なんかがあって、「328」だけは今でもあるけど、良く朝までハシゴしたもんだ。今でも時々「アムリタ」とか「MUSE」とか「椿バー」とかで朝を迎えることもあるけれど、やっぱり当時のテンションの高さと会話の深さは望むべくもないわけで・・・。

TOMY'S BARが良かったのは、なんといっても店の適度な暗さと選曲で、お世辞にも広いとは云えない店内は、新しめの音を聞きながらニヤリとする好き者で一杯だった。

このLE CARRE BLANCもその辺りは共通していて、かかる曲は最新のTECHNOからジャズ・フュージョン、R&Bまでノン・ジャンル/ノン・カテゴリー。カッコつけすぎのDJDJしてないところが、むしろ好ましい。

僕はどんな店であれ、BGMが駄目だと、どんなにインテリアが良かろうがメシが旨かろうが即NGなんだけど、その点クリスの選曲は違和感が無く楽しめる。(時折、自分の好みの音源を持ち込んでストックしているということもあるけれど・・・)

この連休中に久しぶりに寄ってみたら、相変わらずの混みよう。で、桑野と世間話をしていたら、「そういえばこのあいだ、店のことがジャパンタイムズで記事になってさ。」となんだか嬉しそうにいうではないか。

ふと壁を見ると、そのTHE JAPAN TIMESの記事(注:アクセスするには一度JAPAN TIMESのサイトに登録してから再度アクセスする必要があり。ちょっと面倒なので下にコピペしときます)が貼ってある。

かなり大きな記事で、内容はほとんど絶賛に近い。曰く「ここと同じような店はトーキョー中探してもない。もし貴方がシリアスに楽しみたいのなら、東横線に乗って自由が丘まで来るべし!」な~んて書いてあるではないか。

親友の店が紹介されたのはすごく嬉しいんだけど、ただでさえ混んでいるのに更に混んでしまうのではないかと、ちょと心配している。


BEST BAR NONE : LE CARRE BLANC

A rockin' party out of bounds

By JUDE BRAND

Jiyugaoka is still one of the preferred residential and shopping areas for the well-heeled spawn of Tokyo's old-school money. By day, fancy patisseries with French names and sleek fashion boutiques cater to young ladies from well-to-do families out browsing for tea and cakes or designer clothes. By night, dozens of restaurants and bars offer a smorgasbord of food and drink to young couples. It is international, eclectic and, as a rule, expensive.

News photo
Just an ordinary take-your-shirt-off Saturday night party at the hottest new spot in Jiyugaoka, Le Carre Blanc
News photo

But a stone's throw away from the station's main exit, hugging the side of the Toyoko Line tracks, is a somewhat ramshackle multitiered building called Jiyugaoka Depato. Though depato is short for department store, it isn't what you might think, especially in this area: The ground-floor houses an arcade of small individual shops selling everything from home appliances to thermal underwear, while the upper floors house an equally unpretentious collection of restaurants and bars.

Jiyugaoka Depato seems oddly out of place in an otherwise upmarket neighborhood. But Le Carre Blanc, the building's latest and most popular drinking spot, seems right at home. In less than six months, Christofer Cousin, the bar's creator and master, has managed to amass a steady client base, including every party-oriented expat in the greater Meguro area. Some patrons even come out from the city to party at Le Carre, which is no mean feat for a bar hidden away on the third floor in the suburbs.

How, you might ask, has a French native with barely four years in Japan, managed to walk into one of the city's best neighborhoods and open a hopping little night spot?

"I used to go out drinking and clubbing every chance I could when I first got here," says Chris, as he prefers to be called.

On first arriving, he worked at Jiyugaoka's Irish pub, Ocarolan's, for three years. During that time, his natural ability to meet and bring people together was given full play. He further nurtured his network of friends in the area by hosting regular parties at another local haunt, Bar 320. He recruited DJs and put the word out, and once a month or so an otherwise quiet bar would be pumping with music and party people.

News photo
Owner Mitsuhiro Kuwano and master/creator Christofer Cousin

"It was like a private members party for people who lived in the area," says Chris. "And it attracted a truly mixed crowd -- young and old, Japanese and foreign."

His parties were so popular that Bar 320 owner Mitsuhiro Kuwano backed him in opening his own place. And, six months down the road, they couldn't be happier with the result -- except that Chris doesn't get to go out bar-hopping and clubbing as much as he would like.

The vibe on Friday and Saturday nights is electric. Both fresh-faced and seasoned drinkers crowd in at the 10-stool counter, with emphasis on the word crowd. But it is a friendly crew of partiers with whom you will rub shoulders -- and invariably meet -- as you maneuver to order drinks. But with no cover charge and all drinks 500 yen, it's no wonder that everyone is all smiles.

News photo
The party people at Le Carre Blanc

Other days of the week, the interior feels larger. And, with all white walls, ceilings and fixtures, including the bar, it looks quite clean and sane, especially considering the beating it gets on the weekends.

A few cushions sit in a curtained corner at the end of the bar, in front of which is placed an elegantly crafted water pipe. But it is not just for show. Chris also stocks a full range of fruit-cured tobacco from you can choose a flavor and light up.

This Middle Eastern theme is further accented by a belly dancer who comes to tease the crowd (usually every other Saturday night -- next on April 29) just to get the party started. Someone -- usually a girl -- ends up with a decorative Indian bidi stuck on the forehead. The crowd is an even mix of Japanese and foreigners; pub types and clubbers. The music is as varied as the clientele, with everything from funk to trance given equal play.

One patron turned to me one night and asked where he could find a similar bar in the city. I was stumped. The truth is that Le Carre Blanc is unique. There isn't anywhere else like it in Tokyo. So if you're into some serious fun I suggest you catch a Tokyu Toyoko train out to Jiyugaoka one night . . .

Le Carre Blanc; Jiyugaoka Depato, 3F, 1-28-8-3 Jiyugaoka, Meguro-ku, Tokyo; (03) 3723-9333. Open 6 p.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, later on weekends. Closed Monday. No cover charge. All drinks (except top shelf) 500 yen.
The Japan Times: Friday, April 28, 2006

May 8, 2006 in Food and Drink, Media | Permalink

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