In the bustling modernity of Tokyo, it can be hard to find the right, quiet cafe for a cup of coffee
In Shibuya, one of the busiest neighborhoods of this metropolis "Meikyoku-Kissa Lion" stands silent and steady, awaiting your arrival. This cafe retains its retro styling from the early 20th century, and completes its aesthetic with a constant hum of classical music.
By staying true to its antique roots, architectural intentions, and caffeinated perfection, Meikyoku-Kissa Lion has maintained a steady flow of regulars through the decades.
As the door closes behind you, Lion puts a wall between you and your everyday hassles. Sit back with a soul-warming cup of coffee, and loosen your ears to the music as it welcomes you home.
A Cafe Founded in 1926, at Showa's Dawn - Meikyoku-Kissa Lion
Meikyoku-Kissa Lion's brick storefront
A Beloved Place of Communion for Classical Music Lovers
Meikyoku Kissa Lion Cafe is housed in a brick building in Shibuya, Tokyo's Dogenzaka neighborhood. For over 90 years, the lime-green and yellow sign has marked a beloved gathering space for classical music enthusiasts.
A Retro sight, straight out of the Showa Era invites you in.
Ms. Ishihara, the cafe's third generation owner
We arrived at Meikyoku Kissa Lion on a sunny day, before opening. Ms. Katsuko Ishihara, the third-generation owner of the establishment, greeted us with a charming smile.
The reason why this cafe has been long-loved by classical music lovers, lies in the high-quality sound system and selection of music. The red seats are reminiscent of a movie theater, and all face towards the central speaker system. The owner hoped for all customers to be able to sit back, relax, and soak up the music.
Some larger chairs sit up to four people
The 3D speakers were custom-made by pioneers in the 1950s. They fill the room with a beautiful majestic sound that'll transport you to a Vienna concert hall. Regardless of where you're seated, the quality will remain the same.
Custom-made 3D speakers
The speakers were once featured in an article in a US magazine
Meikyoku Kissa Lion boasts an extensive collection of classical records. Ms. Ishihara says she's lost track of the exact number of vinyls at the cafe. They used to be stacked in an order-made shelf but the record collection kept growing, so the staff at the cafe helped build extra shelving.
Most of the time, the cafe takes requests from guests, except between 3~7PM. These hours are reserved for what is known as the "Lion Concert" curated by the staff.
Rows and rows of vinyl records
Retro Architecture Preserved through Renovations
The Lion Cafe experience is like a step back into the past. This cafe is also unique for its quaint old-fashioned architecture, both inside and out.
The original structure that was built in 1926 was completely destroyed in a fire during World War Two. It was rebuilt in the same location in 1950.
European style exterior
The founder of Lion Cafe was an individual full of creativity. Without a background in architecture, he took on the exterior, interior, and even decorations of the establishment. The storefront walls with the soft-colored bricks, and elegant setting of the main entrance display his dedication and skill.
I noticed the lion motifs lining the dividers, as they caught the sunlight from the window; it turns out that these were carved by the founder too. Ms. Ishihara said with a chuckle: "He didn't even study sculpting! I heard that he even carved the pillars out himself."
Partitioning with lion pattern carvings
The cafe walls are adorned with golden Ancient Greek style columns, supported by arches of the same color. Every detail was meticulously put together by the founder.
The decorative details at Lion Cafe are a strange mix. They were inspired by different places and historical periods, but somehow all blend well, creating a classic, stylish look.
The wall paintings were drawn by Lion Cafe frequenters
Entering the Lion Cafe is like taking a step back in time — to Japan's old Showa era. The cafe transcends visitors to a nostalgic world, and it's a truly magical experience for anyone who loves music.
A Soundproofed Interior
The 3D audio system at Lion Cafe plays classical tunes all day. Although the music is made fairly loud inside to immerse you in its sounds, it is hardly noticeable from the outside.
That is because the cafe is designed to control noise -- something you wouldn't expect from a structure as old as this.
Soft light pouring through the windows
To begin with, Lion Cafe's bay windows are double-panned, and special attention was also given to the windows and sashes to minimize sound leaks.
Also, concrete is used to seal gaps in the indoor walls and the ceiling. The brickwork facade also seems to play a role in containing the music.
The experience of entering Lion Cafe for the first time is a surreal one; one walks in, lured by the faint sound of classical music, only to be greeted by a much more prominent audio experience. inside.
Great Hospitality & Attention to Detail
Lion Cafe is the brainchild if the cafe founder. While he paid enormous attention to the architecture and audio system, he was equally dedicated to creating a haven of relaxation.
The warm toned lamps scattered across the cafe are covered with shades of calming blue and warm tones, which are meant to let guests focus on the music without being distracted.
The leaflets were also designed by the founder
Once you're seated inside the cafe, the staff will bring you a copy of the set list of the cafe's beloved "Lion Concert." The programs, which are updated regularly, were first designed by the founder. The back page shows the words "coffee" and "masterpieces in 3D" in a retro handwriting font. Keep your copy as a memento of your visit to this iconic cafe.
The menu at Lion Cafe is simple -- but all for a certain purpose. There's no food, just drinks. It's another step taken by the cafe to let customers remain focused on the music. Drinks are served in simple, yet charming cups and glasses.
Not sure what to order? Then go for the coffee, which is made from a recipe that comes from half way around the world. The recipe hails from a bakery in London that inspired Lion's name. The nephew of Lion's founder once worked at London's "Lion Bakery", where coffee was pot-brewed and filtered through a flannel filter.
Lion Bakery's nameplate displayed at Lion Cafe
The “nel-drip” method produces rich coffee that's not too bitter. It is perfect to savor while relaxing to the sound of classical music.
Enjoying the Cafe: Meikyoku Kissa Lion
This welcomes you as you enter the cafe....
Relax and Enjoy the Passage of Time
Lion Cafe is tucked away in a quiet street of Shibuya. For some visitors, venturing inside may require a bit of nerve. So here are some simple tips to make your experience more enjoyable.
■Find your favorite seat
Once you enter the cafe, try to find a spot you like, even before the staff tries to get you a seat. All the regulars at this cafe have a favorite seat.
It's worth exploring the seats on the second floor too. Trying to locate the staircase may be a bit tricky — just walk straight from the entrance to the back of the room and it'll be there.
Keep in mind that smoking is allowed everywhere in this cafe while photography isn’t.
The cafe reserves four seats with power outlets for those who want to use their computers.
■Order your drink
Rich flavored “nel-drip” coffee
Once seated, the staff will bring you the menu, some water and the copy of the playlist.
As we've suggested earlier, try the coffee. The cafe offers other old-school beverages like lemon soda and milkshakes.
■Enjoy classical music
Music vibrates throughout the cafe, even upstairs
Some people come to read, while others doze off while listening to the music. Take it slow and make the most of your time at Lion Cafe. But do keep in mind that most of the customers are here to simply enjoy the music, and for that reason conversation is discouraged. The best thing to do is just chill and spend some quiet time on your own.
The staff will take requests, so if there's anything you'd like to hear, ask them and they'll search from their vast record library. The cafe is also a good place to discover new music, as the staff quietly announces the name of the music after it's played.
In case you need to find the restrooms, they are on the right side of the front of the cafe, behind the partition that's placed behind the record shelves.
■Pay the bill
When you're done enjoying your time at Lion Cafe, it's time to settle the bill.
There's no cashier, so take your bill to the staff at the kitchen counter and let them take care of it.
Take a time out and relax at Meikyoku Kissa Lion
Meikyoku Kissa Lion has kept its founder's spirit alive and retained a nostalgic ambience. For 00 years, it has provided a haven of relaxation for classical music lovers. This coffee house is the perfect place to enjoy classical masterpieces, escape from everyday life, or just to take a short break.
Magic is in the air at Lion Cafe, so come and experience it for yourself. Let it cast a spell on you and take you to a different world.