When it comes to finding a place to drink, Tokyo caters to every esoteric taste imaginable. It’s a city where you can get a cocktail surrounded by video game characters, canned food, or penguins. But until recently, Japan’s capital was somehow lacking in watering holes aimed squarely at software developers and coders.
Hackers Bar is here to change that. Owned and run by Aki Nakao, it’s a bar that hosts live coding events and offers a series of tech-themed cocktails. There’s the Blue Screen, named after the famous fatal error that strikes fear into the heart of Windows users; the Kernel Panic, which evokes the similar Mac shutdown; the absinthe-based Spaghetti, referring to poorly-written “spaghetti code,” and so on. Nakao’s personal favorite is the Hackers Highball, which uses Dr Pepper as a mixer — the soft drink is difficult to find in Japan, but Nakao says it’s a cult favorite among Japanese hackers, so he orders stock off Amazon.
Nakao, who also runs a DNA testing company called Hymena, got the idea for Hackers Bar after seeing street performers in Boulder, Colorado last year. He wanted to do something similar, but didn’t think Tokyo would be the best fit. "Japanese people don’t pay street musicians," he laughs. "And the best thing I can do is live coding, which would be strange in a public space." Deciding that a bar would be a better fit, Nakao asked other places in Tokyo if they would be interested in hosting coding events, but ended up opening one of his own instead.
"They’re interested in how the code moves on a terminal, like in 'The Matrix' or other sci-fi movies."
About half the bar’s customers are development novices, according to Nakao, and his live coding events are intended to introduce beginners to the basics of how software is created. "I think Japanese people are very interested in coding," he says. "They’re interested in how the code moves on a terminal, like in The Matrix or other sci-fi movies." There are three screens around the small bar, giving everyone a good view of what the night’s lead "hacker" is working on. The events run four times a week — the bar only opens at 8pm on weeknights, but Nakao wants to invite coders from other companies to host hacking nights on weekends as well.
As with the country’s indie games scene, Japan’s relative aversion to entrepreneurship has stymied its startup culture when compared with elsewhere. But Nakao thinks that’s changing, and is happy to play any part in helping the scene find its feet. "I’d like to support [startups] and I want them to gather here," he says. "We can communicate how they can do business." Hackers Bar itself makes use of some of the apps developed at its live coding nights; for example, a simple iOS app that records customers’ tabs, displays them on a monitor via AirPlay, and wirelessly prints out paper copies.
But what about the drinks? Well, the Blue Screen of Death turns out to be a lot more palatable in alcoholic form.
- Aki Nakao behind the bar.
- Hackers Bar has three monitors so that everyone gets a good view of what the night's designated "hacker" is working on.
- This was the first floppy disk I'd seen in years, but it serves an actual purpose. Nakao puts source code from the events on these disks and gives them to attendees to take home. "It's really cool to see a floppy disk drive on a MacBook," he said, plugging one in over USB.
- Hackers Bar makes use of services from two Japanese tech titans: it has an account on ubiquitous messaging app Line, and uses retail giant Rakuten's Smart Pay, a competitor to Square. Many bars and restaurants in Japan don't accept credit cards, making mobile payment services particularly appealing here.
- This drink mat features a QR code along with an explanation of how to have fun with alcohol written in the C programming language.
- The Blue Screen uses curaçao and Hpnotiq liqueurs to citrusy effect. It's a lot more pleasant than its Windows namesake.
- The finished cocktail gets remarkably close to the Blue Screen of Death's specific shade of blue.
- The Kernel Panic, meanwhile, is made from grenadine, Campari, and — of course — cider and apple brandy. It's more of an acquired taste than the Blue Screen, but it's not the only Apple-themed cocktail on offer. The Yosemite Punch is another recent addition, named after the upcoming version of OS X.
- A Kernel Panic rests ominously on the bar. The drink was conceived as an "opposite" to the Blue Screen.
- As is common in Tokyo's high-rise entertainment districts, Hackers Bar shares a tower with a motley crew of tenants. This building is called Power House and is occupied by karaoke rooms, a relaxation salon, and a deeply unofficial Star Wars-themed bar called Force Roppongi.