What’s Japanese For ‘Cheers’?

April 4, 2008

For a long time I’ve wanted a place where everybody knows my name. You know, a little neighborhood place where I can go in and everyone will yell, "Chris!" and be happy to see me. Well, actually, I do have a place like that, except I always used to imagine it would be a bar and not a sushi bar. Not that I have anything against sushi, or sushi bars. In fact the reason everybody there knows my name is because I’m such a regular customer. Sometimes I can call up to place a carry-out order and they know what I want as soon as I say, "Hello." Thanks to the magic of caller-ID they probably don’t even have to answer. They always do, mainly because they never know when I’m going to throw a curve ball and ask for the Hedorah Roll instead of the Godzilla Roll, but still if it weren’t rude I could probably call, let it ring once, hang up, and show up fifteen minutes later and have dinner ready and waiting.

But why is it called a "sushi bar"? That’s what I really want to know. Let’s face it, a bar is a dark room separated by a long wooden table that you sit at and someone on the other side pours drinks. I’m not knocking bartenders. I’m just saying that anybody can pour liquid into a glass. Bartenders are incredibly talented because they have to deal with drunks, and that doesn’t just take skill; it takes the patience of a saint, and the courage of a…well, of someone who’s really courageous. Circus clowns, or firefighters, maybe. But mostly a "bar" is where they serve either beer poured from a tap or liquor poured straight from a bottle into a glass. A place where some guy juggles bottles while balancing a glass on his head and slicing pineapples with his feet as he puts together a twenty-dollar drink that tastes like alcoholic bubblegum is a "nightclub". Nightclubs are not bars. Nightclubs are clubs you go to at night and when you’re an adult. I’m not sure if there’s a dayclub, or what it would look like. Maybe dayclubs are what you had when you were a kid, which was basically you and your best friend in a cardboard box in the woods, but we just called those clubs. Maybe a dayclub is what snooty English guys go to so they can sit around in smoking jackets and brag about how one of their servants shot a tiger in the Afrikaaner once, but then they call those clubs too. When I first heard a snooty English guy talk about going to his club my first thought was, Why would someone like that go hang out in a cardboard box in the woods? But it actually made sense. I’m sure being a snooty English guy can be very stressful. They might like to have a cardboard box in the woods to go to so they can get away from the world for a while. It’s possible that the horrible class divisions of Victorian England were a misunderstanding because the upper classes had the notion that squalor and abject poverty were in fact tremendously liberating. But I digress. I think the sushi bar deserves to be called something other than a bar. After all, the guys making the sushi are, like bartenders or bottle jugglers, extremely skilled individuals, but it’s a different set of skills. It takes years to learn to prepare sushi, especially fugu, which can kill you. There’s something that really makes you think: a supremely tasty dish that you can savor until your heart stops beating and you fall face-down in your wasabi. I’ve actually never had fugu, but I could imagine whoever served it to me would say, "Enjoy this meal. It could be your last." Believe me, when the guy preparing your food has that kind of power you never want to hang up on him.

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