By Peter Sidell
One station south of Shibuya on the Yamanote line, Ebisu boasts nightlife just as lively as its noisy neighbor, but attracts a slightly older, wiser crowd. Many of them are drawn here by a profusion of small, cozy bars, of which Vega must be one of the most convivial. Tucked next to a shrine on a quiet side street, but only five minutes' walk from the station (and you can do it in three if your last train is coming), it welcomes you into a warm atmosphere created by a sociable mix of expats and locals, that'll make you wish it were open later so you could skip the last train and stay until the first.
Vega styles itself a Wine Café-Bar, and it does have an extensive choice of wines on offer. The list features a few sparkling wines, twenty whites and nearly forty reds, largely from old-world Europe but with also a few Australians on the white side, and more Australians, Californians and even a Slovenian and couple of Turks on the red. If the selection leaves you wondering where to start, there are usually a couple of bottles sitting on the bar for sale by the glass, or you can ask the friendly proprietor for a recommendation.
Prices start at a very reasonable ¥500 for a glass, and if you come on a Monday, there's the option of a two-hour "Wine Lovers' Day" Viking for ¥2000. For those who don't drink wine, there's draft beer for ¥500 a glass, or bottles including Guinness, Chimay and Hoegaarden for ¥800, as well as shochu and nihonshu for the salarymen. The 'café' part of café-bar means tasty ¥500 snacks such as buffalo wings, garlic toast or chorizo, or the intriguing French wine jam.
There isn't really a bad time to go, but better than usual is the monthly Big Night Out, a free night of English stand-up comedy hosted by Stand-Up Tokyo. For about an hour and a half, a mix of performers take to the stage, beginners and old hands alike on the Tokyo stand-up scene, many of them Japanese. There's a wide range of styles on display: puns and wordplay, political and social satire, saucy anecdotes, and surreal imagined scenarios.
Happy people drinking good wine and watching free comedy in a sociable atmosphere… can't be bad. Viva that Vega!
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I came to Japan from Manchester, England in summer 2003, and have travelled a lot since then, around Japan and in Asia. When I`m not working I write satire at www.iothern.blogspot.com and perform stand-up comedy in and around Tokyo. Check my youtube channel `CunningPunster` for a taste.