BASE Bar, Tokyo
A venue interior that tells a long, insightful story—because nothing has ever been taken off the walls
by James Rodrigues
BASE Bar’s walls are thick with layers of posters, pictures, license plates and business cards; the ceiling is draped in faded flags. Wu-Tang posters are hung opposite of signed Uruguyan soccer jerseys. This bar's incredibly storied design has been created organically, simply because the venue's owner—Matsu-san—has never taken anything down in the 22 years he’s owned the clandestine Tokyo establishment. The design almost has its own life, and certainly its own narrative.
Located in the Asakusa neighborhood of Old Tokyo, down an unassuming alley, BASE isn’t exactly on the main drag. With no windows and just a heavy wooden door denoting a venue, BASE looks like a members-only club, or a secret hideout—and in a way, it is. CH spoke with Matsu-san to talk about his inspirations, aspirations and the story of this charming and almost personified space.
How long have you owned this place?
Let's see: I'm 57 now and I opened BASE when I was 35, so—22 years. I remember the year I found it was right after the [economic] bubble had burst here in Japan. All my friends were begging me not to open it. They said, "This is the worst time, it's definitely going under". But I did it anyway—I had always wanted to open a business and it felt like the right time.
Is there a concept behind the design and decor?
There isn't a concept as much. This bar is like me; it's a mix of different things. I like a lot of American culture, so that's why I serve Budweiser and play a lot of Motown and soul, but I've also been a big soccer fan since I was a kid, so we show Champions League and you can see some scarves and things around the place. I never consciously had an idea of what I wanted the bar to look like, it just sort of happened on its own.
Where did all these things on the walls come from?
What you see here—on the walls, all over the ceiling, behind the bar—they're just things I picked up while traveling. One great thing about the bar is it's given me a place to put all the things I had been collecting for so many years before. There's a lot of music posters here too—some from a friend who used to be a promoter for international bands playing in Tokyo, so he gave me some of the signed flyers and head-shots. Whatever isn't mine was either given by friends, some things sent from people around the world and things customers just tacked on themselves. I've never taken anything down since I opened.
This feels like the kind of place that would have a lot of regulars, are there people who just keep coming back?
Yeah, definitely. There are people who would come here when they were dating, then come back when they were married—and now their kids come here. That's the way I want it. Everyone who's ever set foot in here has something in common. There's a reason I don't have any windows out front. Most people, if they come down this alley just pass by or say "Oh, that looks interesting, maybe I'll go some other time". But some people see the outside and think, "I wonder what's in there, I'm going to go have a look". Those are the kind of people I want in my bar; the curious ones. I don't really care about being popular or making a lot of money. I just want to host people who want to be here and who I want to be here.
BASE Bar is located at 3 Chome-12-8 Nishiasakusa, Taitō, Tokyo, Japan
Photos by James Rodrigues