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Friday, July 14, 2006

ROOFTOP BARS IN TOKYO

A tipple or two on top of the world


Special to The Japan Times

In a city crammed with over 12 million people, digging up a little space to breathe can be a tall order.

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XEX in Daikanyama (above) and Shibuya's Navi (below) offer respite above the wailing city.
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With hundreds of thousands of shops, restaurants, businesses and apartments competing for space, little nature is left for the taking, from within the earthy depths of the underground to the maze of streets above and all the way up to the skies. But though huge billboards and neon signs dominate the skyline, a handful of dining entrepreneurs have taken a tip from rooftop savvy cities like New York, San Diego and Los Angeles and created heavenly havens above the hustle and bustle of the busy metropolis.

Navi Shibuya

Half the fun is getting to this joint. After disembarking from the lift to enter the ninth floor's bar and lounge, rooftop ramblers are led around an opening in the floor that looks down on a lavish restaurant serving traditional Japanese cuisine. Diners below are scattered around the base of a huge Benjamin tree that branches up through all three levels, making one feel like you've just climbed Jack's beanstalk and will soon discover something magical. Upon reaching the portal to the peak, the anticipation builds with the appearance of a somewhat shaky-looking staircase. Mounting the stairs provides a mild test of bravery (thus no food service on the rooftop), but like many great climbs, the view at the summit is well worth it. The Benjamin treetops are enclosed in a glass pyramid jutting up through the center of the roof, and surrounded by potted plants, trees, and voguish tables, sofas and reclining chairs. Lazing around with a hot buttered rum, ambient music and a view of several neighboring districts, Navi is a prime place to relax with a date when the only plan is to while away the hours in an elegant and sophisticated atmosphere.

9F 1-20-5 Jinnan, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; tel: 03-5784-4455; www.zetton.jp

Soho's Omotesando

Perhaps the most spectacular feature of Soho in Harajuku is its awesome panoramic view stretching from Shinjuku's skyscraper district to Tokyo Tower and Roppongi Hills. But if you neglect the view then diners are still likely to forget they're in Tokyo as the aroma of Balinese wood furniture lingers gently, lanterns glow atop the tables and a statue of a goddess rests in the middle of the wood floor. Add to that a laid-back jazz soundtrack and surprisingly affordable Cajun, Asian and Italian dishes to choose from. Soho provides a great escape and doesn't put too big a dent in the wallet.

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The buffet lunch on display at Jingumae's Trattoria Venire Venire (above) and Soho's Omotesando
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4F, V28 Bldg., 6-31-17 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; tel: 03-5468-0411; www.soho-s.co.jp

Trattoria Venire Venire

Anyone who's used to chilling out around a pool under big umbrellas will feel right at home at Trattoria Venire Venire's rooftop retreat. This open-air oasis, also located above the hip and happening Harajuku, might not come with a pool but it does offer just about everything required to beat the summer's heat. A calming breeze is the only soundtrack, vines twist and crawl around a wood fence, about 20 tables, each seating a maximum of five, are spread on the deck. Food fare includes a lunch buffet and a choice of three dinner courses (including an all-you-can-drink option). On July 19, two Sicilian chefs will join the team to create a special summer menu.

5F/6F, YM Square Bldg., 4-31-10 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; tel: 03-5775-5333; www.ginza-cruise.co.jp

XEX Daikanyama

This place boasts decor and staff from Japan, New York and Italy. Tucked away at the back, a traditional sushi bar is accented by trickling pools, the subtle scent of incense and steppingstones leading to private dining rooms waited on by kimono-clad women. To the west lies a semicircular N.Y.-style bar with a spacious lounge area hosting an eclectic mix of live music played around a grand piano and a view onto the terrace, which faces a waterfall down a rocky wall. While the cuisine and drinks are generally reasonably priced, those willing to fork out a hefty hunk of extra cash have access to fat fluffy pillow sofas in the VIP areas behind the waterfall. As for the Italian angle, chefs toss pizzas in the open kitchen and slide them into an authentic Naples pizza oven. The wood deck outside offers an open-air lounge with sofas for large groups, surrounded by shrubbery. To the front is a third Bali resort terrace, also enclosed by greenery and a long stretch of tables under a pergola.

La Fuente Daikanyama 3F, 11-1 Sarugaku-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; tel: 03-3476-0065; www.ystable.co.jp

D-Lounge

Though the glowing green aura, swank leather seats and karaoke on the main floor give the impression of a gentleman's club, a climb up to the "Loof" takes its patrons a little closer to a favorite Japanese holiday getaway: Hawaii. The cozy, breezy deck, reggae tunes and fruity selection of frozen and tropical drinks whisk you far away to a more chilled-out place. Inside tacky Hawaiian photo albums you can see a wide selection of scrumptious original dishes, but the portions are likely to leave you craving more and the prices making you opt for less.

RF Sky Bar, Island Creation Tower, 1-22-12 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku; tel: 03-3770-0008; www.d-lounge-shibuya.com

Albatross

The rooftop afforded on this little hole in the wall in Shinjuku's so-called "Piss Alley" is precisely the nitty-gritty kinda place where you'd wanna down a few drinks after a long hard day in the office when you just aren't feeling pretty enough to venture somewhere more glamorous. About seven or eight people can squeeze in around the edges of the roof on haphazardly tossed together cushions for a view of the surrounding neon signs. But make sure you don't have far too many and topple over the edge.

1-2-11, Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo; tel: 03-3342-5758



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