Coffee Seibu, one of Tokyo’s most famous junkissa (cafes), is shuttering its flagship store – temporarily – after 59 years of business. The good news for junkissa fans? It’ll be back in October. The bad news? It may be even harder than ever to get a seat.
Why Coffee Seibu’s flagship store has to move
Coffee Seibu is one of Tokyo’s most well-known junkissa, a concept that dates back to pre-World War II Japan. In Japan’s Meiji and Taisho eras, Western-style cafes would employ female waitresses(女給) who occasionally sat with and talked with customers. At night, the cafes would switch from serving coffee and light food to alcohol. (These businesses are the precursors of modern Japan’s snacks, cabaret bars, and hostess clubs.)
In the 1930s, a new set of laws split these businesses into two groups: the “special” kissa (特殊喫茶; tokushu kissa; now just “kissa”); and the “pure” kissa (純喫茶; junkissa). The latter group excluded customer contact and didn’t serve alcoholic drinks, focusing instead on coffee, tea, desserts, melon soda and similar non-alcoholic drinks, and Western-style cuisine (yoshoku).
Junkissa exploded in popularity in Japan’s Showa era between 1955 and 1975. Coffee Seibu was part of that wave, opening in 1964. For 59 years, it’s continued doing brisk business in the Metro Kaikan building, a short walk out of Shinjuku Station’s South Exit.
Like most junkissa, part of Seibu’s charm is its retro interior. That’s kept it drawing customers hungry for a relaxing space that doubles as a great Instagram backdrop.
Unfortunately, time and wear have taken their toll on the Metro building. As a result, a few years back, the founding company Metro Group decided to pull the plug and move the shop. The Coffee Seibu flagship store officially closed its doors two days ago, on August 31st.
If you thought you couldn’t get in BEFORE….
Fortunately for Seibu fans, Metro Group has anticipated this move for years. In 2019, it opened a satellite shop, Seibu Nishishinjuku, in the Metro Building on 7-chome. The 74-seat venue is a short six-minute walk from Shinjuku Station.
Additionally, the main Seibu shop won’t be closed for long. On October 1st, Metro Group will open the new Seibu flagship store in the new Hanamichi Building in Kabukicho, 1-chome. The building, owned by Metro Group, will also feature other restaurants that aim to evoke an “Edo era” feel.
However, you may have a hard time getting in.
Confession: I’ve never been to the Seibu flagship. It’s one of my wife’s favorite locations – but I’ve never been able to get a table. The one time she took me along with a friend, the wait was so bad that we went to a neighboring junkissa. The last time she got in, her and her friend waited a solid 90 minutes.
Coffee Seibu had these massive backups despite its 250-seat capacity. However, the new store in Kabukicho will only seat 110 people. So wait times may be longer than ever – especially in the initial rush after its Grand Opening.
The last remaining post-war cafe in Shinjuku
Fortunately, while Seibu is cool, there’s no lack of other cafes around Shinjuku (and Tokyo in general) that capture the feel of Japan’s Taisho and Showa eras.
The most notable is Coffee L’ambre (らんぶる), a short walk from the former Seibu flagship store. With Seibu gone, L’ambre is now the only Showa-era junkissa left in the area surrounding Shinjuku Station. With over 100 available seats, customers can usually get in with only a short wait.
(Note: Don’t confuse Coffee L’ambre with Cafe de L’ambre! The latter is a smaller specialty shop in Ginza that prides itself on high-quality coffee created with care. However, according to coffee aficionados, it’s also worth a visit.)
Another one of my personal favorites, though much smaller, is Coffee Star (素多亜 ;スタア), hidden away in a basement room on Shinjuku 3-chome in the Star Building. Star is more of a kissa and has a paired-down menu compared to Seibu or L’ambre. But it’s a nice, quiet place to take a rest or meet a friend on the weekend.
You can also take your chances with Seibu’s Nishishinjuku store. Visitors arriving in October can try and get into the newly opened flagship store in Kabukicho.
I’ll probably try and go myself – if for nothing else, to say I went at least once.
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創業59年、新宿が誇る純喫茶「珈琲西武」が閉店へ…運営会社が明かした「決断の理由」. Bunshun Online