Photo by © grape Japan

Living it up at Luppet Cafe: We visited a virtual bartender in Akihabara

As we reported last month, a new bar staffed by virtual bartenders called Luppet Cafe has opened for business just a minute's walk away from JR's Akihabara Station.

This month is a pre-opening phase, with full operations beginning from April 1st. In our previous article, we focused on the advantage for would-be bartenders of working at Luppet Cafe, with such benefits as being able to pocket 50% of all earnings and working from the comfort and safety of your home. But what about the experience for the customers?

Only one way to find out. We visited the Luppet Cafe website, scrolled through their list of bartenders and settled on a Vtuber called Yūri Chitose whose profile caught our attention. With interests in reading, music composition and gaming, she gave the impression she would be interesting to talk to. Also, her 3d model was very artfully designed (by YUHEI), so it seemed like it would be a good choice to see the technology in action.

The basic fee is 3,000 JPY for a 10-minute slot. Bartenders will have at least three, sometimes more on any particular day and if there are other customers competing for the same slot, there's a lottery to decide who gets it. There's also an option, probably useful for customers tring to secure a spot with a popular Vtuber, to increase their bid, in which case the highest bidder gets the reservation. After payment is processed, you get an email with a confirmation ID.

Visting Luppet Cafe

It's easy to find, in the same building as Go Go Curry, on the 7th floor.

When you arrive, which you should do at least five minutes before your reserved slot, a staff member checks your confirmation ID, explains the house rules and guides you to one of the booth seats.

The interior is clean and spacious with cool neon lighting:

Photo by © grape Japan

So what are the house rules? There's no smoking, and no taking pictures or video of the staff members. You can take photos and videos of your bartender but ask their permission before posting on social media. That's about it. You're free to use the WiFi and charge any equipment you have during your visit.

Bar time

When it was time, the staff member invited us to approach the bar counter. At one end, there was a large vertically-positioned monitor...

Photo by © grape Japan

So this must be Yūri. She was softly humming a tune as we approached...

Photo by © grape Japan

She waved and introduced herself, her head and hand movements surprisingly natural. A camera attached to the monitor (the feed from which you can view in a tiny window at the top right of the screen) allows bartenders to see their customers and react accordingly. Although our photos aren't taken from the ideal angle, the background of the display is designed to blend in seemlessly with the bar, giving the impression that the bartender is there with you.

Yūri explained the menu (which was written on a panel on the bar counter). You can choose from beer, whiskey high ball and other alcoholic beverages as well as ginger ale and other non-alcoholic beverages. We ordered a whiskey high ball, which came with a small tray of kakipi rice crackers and peanuts.

Some bartenders have the ability to display a virtual glass to toast with you, but it depends on the bartender.

Talking to a VTuber one-on-one is not as strange as we had originally expected. Yūri had all kinds of interesting things to talk about. It helped that our reporter was into Japanese literature and Yūri loves reading and sometimes performs dramatic readings of copyright-expired novels published on Aozora Bunko.

If you're a fan, you're obviously going to want to take a photo or a video before you leave. Just make sure to do it before your time is up.

Photo by © grape Japan

After we said goodbye, we were asked to move over to another seat at the bar counter where we could finish our drink or order another one.

Final impressions

If you're into Vtubers or if you want to see how technology is enabling new forms of entertainment and interaction, Luppet Cafe is a new experience definitely worth trying. It's very conveniently located, the bar is comfortable and well-supplied and you don't have to worry about other customers, noisy conversation or cigarette smoke.

If we had to mention a down side, ten minutes is too short, especially when you're having fun. Also, occasionally (which happened to be when we were taking our pictures), your bartender may have connection problems or something resulting in a temporary drop in image resolution but that's mostly out of Luppet Cafe's control.

For more information on Luppet Cafe, to view the schedules of the bartending staff currently registered, or to register as a bartender yourself, please visit Luppet Cafe's website here.

You can also enjoy a 360 degree view of the cafe by visiting the Theta camera links here and here.

Address (JP): 〒101-0025 東京都千代田区神田佐久間町1丁目16-1 大橋ビル702

Address (EN): 702 Ohashi Bldg., 1-16-1 Sakumacho Kanda, Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo 101-0025

By - Ben K.