San Francisco, London and Dubai are among the surprisingly large number of cities that have a drinking establishment named the “Buddha Bar.” But there’s only one pub we know of where all the bartenders are full-fledged Buddhist monks—Vow’s Bar in Tokyo.
In Buddhism, there’s an unwritten rule among monks that they shouldn’t discuss their religion unless they are asked about it. (Spot Cool Stuff sometimes wishes that the clergy of other religions would adopt a similar rule). As a result, Buddhist monks have to get creative about their outreach to the public.
For instance: In McLeod Ganj, India, the main Tibetan Buddhist monastery hosts regular monk tea times that anyone can attend. In Chiang Mai, Thailand, the clergy at one monastery run a “monk’s table” open house where the public is invited to ask monks about absolutely anything they like, from job advice to the nature of the afterlife. (It’s a great travel activity when in northern Thailand; further details about the exact time and place of the monk’s table can be found in the Lonely Planet Thailand” guidebook).
Unlike those two examples, the idea behind Vow’s Bar is less to encourage the people to come to the monks and more to bring the monks to the people. After all, Tokyo is the sort of place where a good percentage of the population can be found in bars.
Aside from its robed servers and the mandala on the wall, Vow’s looks like so many bars scattered around the Japanese capital. It’s cozy (read, small) and dimly lit. Shelves of alcohol line the shelves. Pop songs play over the stereo.
As for the drink selection, you’ll find the typical choice of shochu, beer and whiskey. Though the house specialty drink is a bit unusual—shakunetsu jigoku, which translates as “Burning Hell.” Though, presumably, a trip to Vow’s Bar and a chat with the bartenders can help you avoid that fate.
When: Open 7pm until midnight. Closed Sundays.
If you go: Sit at the bar (as opposed to one of the tables) for the best opportunity to chat with the monk-bartender.
For your bookshelf: The Novice: Why I Became a Buddhist Monk, Why I Quit, and What I Learned