You might not guess that SuperDeluxe, a discreet basement just around the corner from Tokyo's new Mori Art Museum, is owned by two of the city's most celebrated young architects. The late-arriving crowd seems about right—narrow hips, vintage jeans, messy hair, fashionable specs, accents from all over. But the space, gutted and painted and not much more, hardly looks like something an architect would tolerate. It is utterly undesigned—and that, architect Mark Dytham says, is precisely the point. "There are beautiful interiors all over Tokyo," he says, "but things tend to go off after a while. We're trying to take the emphasis away from people coming here to experience the interior. We want them to come to experience the content."
Tonight, it's music, a pair of DJ's spinning un- derground hip-hop. Stage lights make the walls blush a deep red. Tea-lit tables hide behind gauzy curtains, near a motorcycle parked on a low stage. Nothing is nailed down—even the bar is on wheels. Twenty- and thirtysomethings mingle in small circles, talking in Japanese and English and drinking the house brew, Tokyo Ale, from plastic cups.
SuperDeluxe began as a kind of office party. Dytham and his partner Astrid Klein, keen on finding a space in central Tokyo for their architecture firm, settled on a vacant taxi garage they named Deluxe. Together with the design duo
Namaiki, a composer, and a computer graphics contractor, they spent $10,000 on renovations, crammed their firms into a tiny row of cubicles, and turned the rest of the place into an art gallery, a music venue, and a performance-art hall. They even started brewing beer. Over time, though, De- luxe began to feel cramped, so the group dreamed up SuperDeluxe, a new space that would be a permanent home for Deluxe's diversions.
Today, in the center of the buzzing Roppongi quarter, SuperDeluxe hosts up to 25 events a month—exhibits, lectures, live music (everything from classical to electronica to afrobeat), sake tastings, and more-experimental fare. A few weeks ago, SuperDeluxe hosted a party and "instant exhibit" with the culture magazine Hot Rod. "Bring a graphic-art piece and pin it up on the wall," they ordered. "This will be your contribution to 'Japan in a Box,' an art project that will tour Norway."
One of the most popular events, the monthly Pecha Kucha Night, is a visual arts version of a poetry slam. Anyone who shows up gets to present 20 images for 20 seconds each—the slides keep changing, which makes the show-and-tell breezy.Unknown painters and design students end up sharing the stage with stars like architect Toyo Ito. One evening, Dytham met Star Trek: Enterprise actor Dominic Keating at a party and brought him along; Dytham downloaded 20 Star Trek stills, and Keating spoke about interior design in space.
Someone unacquainted with Japan might not find any of this particularly Japanese, but that's a mistake no SuperDeluxe regular would make. An eclectic, creative subculture is a fundamental part of Tokyo's vitality. And in a city that can sometimes hold visitors at a polite distance, a place to participate in culture that's living, not simply put on display, is rare, and enlightening. "So many people come over to Japan and study archery or whatever, because they think it is Japanese," Dytham says. "We're here because we love Tokyo."
SUPERDELUXE, B1F 3-1-25 Nishi Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo; 81-3/5412-0515; www.super-deluxe.com.
DOUGLAS MCGRAY writes for the Atlantic Monthly and Wired, among other publications.
Part avante-garde art gallery, part dance club, part bar, Super Deluxe occupies an open basement space with concrete floors and high ceilings, decorated with contemporary furniture and a bar on wheels that serves cocktails and coffee drinks into the wee hours. Known for its pecha kucha nights during which artists present their work in brief slideshows, as well as its experimental film screenings and music, Super Deluxe is typically packed with young creative types and foreigners. Art events are frequently interactive or aimed at generating discussion: this isn't a place to simply come to drink.
This trendy chain—seven Bangkok restaurants and another in Hong Kong's IFC Mall—pays homage to Thailand's 'Greyhound' fashion label. Occupying a conspicuously posh space on the second level, the Emporium Suites location incorporates steel display counters, exposed concrete and ducts, and a sleek black and white color scheme, the cafe is a favorite gathering spot for young Thai urbanites and expats eager to see if the Thai-Italian fusion fare warrants all the buzz it gets. Waiters in catwalk-caliber duds serve dishes such as fettuccini with seared scallops and pesto cream sauce; Italian clam and mussel soup; and Hainanese chicken and rice. Inventive desserts round out the offerings, most notably the Mixed Berry Layered Crepe Cake and Jeed Jard Lemon Tart.
Giacosa Roberto Cavalli
Fashion designer Roberto Cavalli, one of Florence's most famous sons (in modern times, at least) took it upon himself to revive one of the city's institutions to its former glory. Caffe Giacosa — birthplace of the Negroni cocktail — had been in decline for decades when Cavalli (whose boutique is next door) converted into an upscale chocolate shop and cafe. Featuring hiss signature over-the-top style, the cafe sells exquisite chocolates in animal print boxes displayed under hundreds of fashion photo shoot stills. Visitors can sit outside at an umbrella-covered table with a cappucino and enjoy the chocolates.
Cabaña Las Lilas
Of the dozens of fine steak houses that line the picturesque docks of Puerto Madero, Las Lilas is arguably the best (and certainly the most famous: Jenna Bush reportedly dined here in 2007). Here, the Argentine beef experience—essential to any Buenos Aires vacation—includes the highest-grade local chorizo, ojo de bife (rib eye), and lomo (tenderloin), along with superior service (don’t even try to count the number of waiters that attend you) and a wine list so extensive it reads more like a novel than a menu. Beef eaters appreciate that the meats come from the restaurant’s own herd of pasture-raised cattle, but even vegetarians delight in exquisite salads and sides like garlicky Provençal mushrooms and summer-fresh caprese salad. Las Lilas is no bargain, especially by Buenos Aires standards, but it’s indubitably worth the splurge.
Situated atop La Rinascente, a four-story department store on the edge of Piazza della Repubblica, Terrazza is a small, open-air rooftop café with about a dozen tables. The menu is reasonably priced and includes coffee, tea, wine, and light snacks such as panini and pastries. However, the real draw is the panoramic view of the city, which includes the nearby Duomo and the Giardino di Boboli (Boboli Gardens). Because of its lofty location, the café remains relatively undiscovered and, therefore, quiet. It’s open only during store hours (10 a.m. until 9 p.m. most days).