Ikebukuro is a place I have never had much luck with beer. There are a few places that I have been wanting to check out here for a long time, but events always conspire to frustrate my efforts. Admittedly, making a reservation would normally be enough to sort this out and fairly easy, but yesterday I took my chance again and this time was lucky. It is a sign of the increasing popularity of craft beer in Tokyo that you will need a reservation for a lot of places these days, unless you can turn up just as they are opening, or quite late, or are happy to stay for a short time. Seems that lots of people agree that craft beer tastes a lot better.
So, Vivo. Previously I hadn’t got much further than the front door before being told that it was full. Ikebukuro has got a good selection of good bars, so the fact that it was fully booked tells you something I guess. The place is classy looking and comfortable, two characteristics that don’t always go together. There are around 10 seats at the counter and maybe 20 more at tables. The atmosphere was pleasantly relaxing after a fairly long day at work. I presume it is unnecessary to say that I would like somewhere like this in Yoyogi Uehara.
On to the beer. Vivo has 20 taps (two hand pumps), the majority of which are Japanese craft beers. There are a few US imports and I also spotted a Belgian one. In addition to these there are quite few bottles (mostly imports and not so cheap) and a couple of taps of macro stuff (in case you are coming with someone who has bad taste). There were a few beers in their selection which were new to me, one of which was their house beer, ISP (Ikebukuro Sunshine St Pale) made for them by Baird. This was really nice, made with New Zealand hops (and not the usual ones you might expect) and one of the best Baird beers I have had in a long time (not saying I don’t like Baird beers, just that this one was especially nice). The beers come in four different sizes. The prices listed in the menu are for regular size (360ml) and half (285ml). Regular size ranged from ¥900-¥1150 and half size from ¥750-¥1000. In addition to this you can upsize to US pint (473ml) for an extra ¥150 or UK pint (568ml) for an extra ¥250. These interesting sizes make it a bit difficult to compare prices with other places. I have some nostalgia for the strict sizes used in the UK as you always know what you are getting. Visualising 360ml is a bit tricky for me. As you can probably see from these prices, Vivo is at the higher end of Tokyo prices. But I will say it didn’t feel like a rip-off, and there is no cover charge like other places have, so popping in for one is definitely possible (if they have space).
So, all in all a very positive experience. I am starting to have trouble remembering the details and features of bars, so find it easier to go on my gut feeling, and my gut feeling here was very good. Yes, it is a bit more expensive than other places, but if all we were concerned about was price we wouldn’t go to craft beer places. The beer selection and atmosphere were good and I left with a very positive impression. They publish their beer selection online here, so if you want to check before you set out, you can. If I ever find myself in Ikebukuro just after midnight on a weekday and fancy a drink, I know where to come. I’ll think about how to get home when I have to.
Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
Oh La Ho
Saturday & Sunday, 15.00-26.00
B1F, 1-20-5 東池袋, Toshima-ku, Tokyo
From Ikebukuro station leave via exit 34 (broadly speaking you need to head East, so follow any signs saying East gate). Come up the stairs at exit 34 and carry on walking and take the second right turn (the first right is pretty much where you emerge out of exit 34). Cross one main road and then two smaller roads and Vivo is on the left corner after you cross the third street. The door is just past the Starbucks.