Text: Anna Sherman
B&W Photos: Mikio Hasui
The bar was a plank of wood, rolling in one long unbroken wave from the far wall almost to the door. And there was always a flower, lit by sun through bamboo blinds. In winter, a camellia. In summer, something wild brought in from one of Tokyo’s vacant lots.
And coffee, of course the coffee: beans from Columbia, from Ethiopia, from Kenya. Roasted in the shop, and then hand-sifted by Daibo for flaws. Hot water glittering in a chain of droplets between the steel kettle’s spout and the filter’s coffee grounds. Daibo himself never moved when he poured. Except for his wrists, he was still as a stone.
Tokyo is a restless city, like a kaleidoscope. Everything shifts and changes, but not Daibo Coffee. For thirty-eight years, it was always the same. A light globe might have broken, the old pink plastic telephone been replaced, and the bar itself warp, but nothing essential was altered.
Tokyo, the architect Fumihiko Maki has written, once had many dark, secret places. Before Disneyland, before the vast glass atriums of Midtown and Roppongi Hills, it was a city that still had shadows. “It was not so much a physical world as a world of the imagination, a world that could expand at any time in new directions.” Daibo Coffee belonged to that place. It was a haven, a refuge, for people who had come from elsewhere in the city, from other prefectures in Japan, or from other countries.
When Daibo Coffee closed before New Year’s 2014, I worried that it would be lost. Everyone who had drunk a cup of coffee there, whether only once or more than a thousand times, grieved.
But after the building itself was demolished, Daibo Coffee re-assembled itself. It already has a vibrant after-life, in memoirs, at least one documentary, magazines, and on-line. And the famous bar now floats in a new ‘coffee room,’ where Daibo welcomes guests: ‘What would you like?’