Motown House

“Are you sure?” the guy asked his friend at the door, “this feels kind of weird.”

We were in Roppongi – the notorious, kind of seedy, club district of Tokyo – at a bar called Motown House, and the Bruno Mars was blaring. A friend had invited us to go out, mainly because a friend of hers was bartending that night. “A trip advisor reviewer claimed he got drugged and robbed there,” my sister had announced the day before, “but it’s Roppongi, that happens. Besides, we know the bartender, she’s probably not going to drug us.”

That same bartender, who was quickly becoming the only reason we were there, had also described the clientele as “an interesting, older crowd.” We’d imagined professionals around our age, in their 30s and 40s, grooving to some soul and offering interesting conversation. We’d been about 15 years off the mark, and the only soul we’d heard in the past two hours was a techno remix of Jackson Five’s “ABC.”

Photo credit: my sister

Photo credit: my sister

Photo credit: my sister

Maybe we’d arrived too early, we thought. Yet, with everything just a bit off – the older women who appeared to believe in the sex appeal of brown, knee high boots with a reasonable heel, the overweight men who seemed limited to staring with half smiles, the working girls that were about two decades past their prime – it made for some fantastic people-watching. Alcohol mixed with blatant desperation turned the slight hip swaying into frantic bouncing to an imaginary beat a fraction of a pulse off the rhythm coming out of the speakers. An undernourished woman arrived in a fur hat three times the size of her head and threw off her coat to dance with the grace of a push puppet on speed. Her much older date shuffled his boot-clad legs to Justin Bieber, his eyes covered by dark sunglasses despite the dim lighting. A Korean girl arrived with her stoic boyfriend, and proceeded to jump up and down, mosh pit style, through every single song. Two Japanese salarymen were doing what looked like interpretive dancing. Another was falling asleep on his feet at the bar. A guy came in high, and pantomimed conducting an orchestra with a glass of red wine.

The bright side of being trapped in a virtual circus was that it was easy to find people who were normal. They usually came in with trepidation, looked horrified, and left within fifteen minutes.

“Is it always like this?” An Australian guy shouted in my ear as he looked around the room, mentally clutching on to his sense of dignity.

“I don’t know, but it gets worse the farther back you go,” I shouted back.

While the harmless drunks and weirdos save Motown House from being completely awful, the bar is still exceedingly creepy. For about ten minutes, a group of us kept our eyes resolutely fixed on different spots in the bar while a guy that looked like Michael Moore crossed with John Wayne Gacy stood next to our table and stared at us. On my way out of the bathroom, a South Asian guy stroked the back of my head. A drunk Japanese guy simply stood six inches behind one of our friends for about an hour.

“I work for the CIA,” a white-haired, American guy in a suit tried to tell my sister.

“No, you don’t,” she said flatly, “if you did, you wouldn’t tell me that.”

“Okay,” he conceded, lamely, “I work for the U.S. Embassy.”

“Yeah?” My sister said, sensing another lie, “what do you do there?”

Our breath of fresh air was the older Asian guy in a Hermes tie featuring bunny rabbits, who, completely wasted, insisted on trying to dance with every butch lesbian in our group. He happily accepted rejection yet remained optimistic and immune to the creepy desperation permeating most of the room. He bounced to the beat with us until we realized it was midnight and escaped the smoky confines of Motown House to catch the last train.

I came home to an anguished whimper-bark and a dog – normally too lazy to get up to greet me when I get home – practically vibrating with happiness.

“Do I smell like an ashtray?” I asked as she jumped and wagged excited circles around me and sniffed my mascara, “did you miss me?”

On the ride home, we had talked through hoarse throats about how terrible Motown House had been, the Michael Moore/John Wayne Gacy serial killer, and the possibility of that bar becoming a part of my future if I didn’t find a life partner in the next ten years. My sister had apologized for dragging me there, as if going out with her didn’t always involve slightly outrageous events. But even with the high percentage of creeps there, it’s hard to write off Motown House as a bad bar. Like watching Hoarders, it’s an experience that can turn your far-from-perfect life into one that is much more worthy of appreciation. Suddenly, I can point to my safe, repetitive life where I spend most nights with an ungrateful dog with pride because I’m not a regular at a bar seemingly designed for the comfortably desperate.

Should I ever need another reminder, fortunately, Motown House is only a short subway ride away.