Approximately 100 years ago, the great American prose stylist F. Scott Fitzgerald coined the phrase “The Jazz Age.” The term encapsulated the Roaring Twenties, Gertrude Stein’s “Lost Generation,” Gatsby, Hemingway and a decade-long decadent drunken rampage that is still mythologized today.
The American diaspora in France so eloquently and beautifully described by Fitzgerald in possibly the ultimate summer novel, Tender is the Night, can be seen today in a dioramic fashion in a small section of Shibuya-ku, where locals mix freely with North Americans, Europeans and pretty much everyone else.
Where the faint rattle of cutlery, smoky scents of barbecue, the sweet acidic aroma of orange wine intermingles with a polyphonic cacophony of accents and cadences that sail effortlessly into summer making this small enclave of Tokyo one of the city’s most exciting and stimulating, and in turn usurping former cosmopolitan hotspots such as Nakame and Daikanyama.
The Moveable Feast Moves to Hatagaya
It’s a big claim but anyone who has had the recent pleasure of visiting Hatagaya, or more specifically Nishihara Shotengai, will testify to its vibrancy, its tangible frisson. There’s a lot going on in Nishihara, with an array of elegant spots found there such as Wineshop Flow, Bullpen, Jicca, Paddlers Coffee and Ella Records.
For the design buffs out there, you’ll notice an aesthetic leitmotif, which runs through many of these establishments with an insouciant blend of concrete and wood being used to great effect. It is, however, Freeman Shokudo and Sanita that have been instrumental in bringing a touch of Brooklyn to Hatagaya, with owners Jeremy Freeman of Freeman Shokudo and Sanita’s Kenny Colvin spearheading real-deal American barbecue, craft beers, Grandma’s pizza and natural wine.
Growing East Coast Roots in Hatagaya
Freeman and Colvin, although they share mutual friends in their native New York, first met in Tokyo a few years ago. Freeman, a DJ and owner of Deadly Dragon Sound record store in New York, and Colvin, a design and branding impresario and the man behind Giant Squid Creative, bonded over their East Coast roots and a desire to open their own distinct ventures in the Japanese capital.
Freeman and his wife Maiko Sakamoto found a space in Hatagaya for their own venture but felt it was too large for a first restaurant so they constructed a wall and sublet to Colvin who named the bar Sanita after his Napoletano and American grandmother.
Freeman Shokudo is gaining some well-deserved traction for its sublime barbecue courtesy of Freeman, Sakamoto and their culinary partner Sou Ieki who founded the legendary Nakame barbecue joint Hatos Bar.
“Our food is not your typical American barbecue fare. It is an amalgamation of tastes and techniques that the three of us have developed together,” says Freeman in an email interview with TW. “I brought aspects of Jewish, New York food culture into a barbecue culture that Sou had mastered as the founder of Hatos Bar.
“Together we have created a world-class pastrami; spare ribs that are unlike anything else served in Japan; smoked saba that sings of the Lower East Side; and a range of specials and sides that are unapologetically our own and imbued with the skill of my wife who is a classically trained Japanese chef.”
‘We’re Just a Bar’
The open brick-style storefront with large windows and casual chic aura of Sanita, designed by Colvin, is a tribute to the old neighborhoods of New York and fits seamlessly into Hatagaya. There’s a louche energy to Sanita with customers lounging outside with cocktails and wines and the odd cheeky slice of the supreme Grandma’s pizza or other Italian NYC-inspired small plates.
Colvin is suitably direct when asked, in an interview with TW, about Sanita. “When we first opened, everyone thought we were a natural wine bar. Though natural wine plays a big role in our drink selection, we tell people, ‘We’re just a bar,’ which is kinda rare in Tokyo. We’re not a wine bar, we’re not a cocktail bar, and we’re not a craft beer bar. We’re just a bar. You can come and get any of those things.”
With between 28 and 35 different wines by the glass offered daily and a cocktail list that is being noticed by Tokyo’s Instagram crowd, Sanita is to wine what Freeman is to sinful meats.
Building a Community in Hatagaya
Although separate businesses, Sanita and Freeman Shokudo share a similar community-focused ethos. Freeman talks of how he met and established a friendship with Daisuke from Paddlers Coffee and how Wineshop Flow has been instrumental in providing the natural wine available at Freeman Shokudo and the overall communality found in Nishihara.
“In a very short time we feel like we are part of the neighborhood with a group of customers and friends that are so supportive and kind. It gave our business a really strong foundation that we feel confident building upon. In addition, we live across the street and our daughter goes to the local Nishihara grammar school, so we really made an investment in our community.
“It is super nice for us to look in the store and see our daughter and her friends all doing their homework after school at the big tables, and to hear from our daughter’s friends’ parents that Freeman Shokudo has given Nishihara and Hatagaya a new vibrancy. That’s all we wanted!”
Colvin is similarly enthusiastic about the Nishihara community. “It’s very, very important to us,” he says. “Hatagaya is a very tight-knit community and it’s a mix of an older generation and a younger generation. We get along very well with all of our neighbors. Our landlords, who have been wonderful, are an older couple that ran the liquor store that occupied the Sanita–Freeman’s space for 40-plus years before us. It means a lot that they have welcomed us into their old store and that the neighborhood has embraced us. So we do our best to be the best neighbors we can be.”
Finding Somewhere You Belong
Although Tokyo’s bar and restaurant scene has, generally speaking, been hit hard throughout the Covid-19 pandemic both Freeman Shokudo and Sanita are doing good business. There’s an idiosyncratic energy about these two locations and the whole of Nishihara. On a summer’s evening you can almost, if you listen hard enough, hear the ghosts of the jazz age with cigarettes in hand and wine glasses clinking amidst muffled conversations and a wistful kiss behind the elbow.
Fitzgerald would like Freeman Shokudo and Sanita. He’d like the solidarity found there. He once wrote, “You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.” Freeman Shokudo and Sanita reflect this and the cuisine and drinks found there can make you feel like you belong, you can become part of the community and find new people, new friends.