The neighborhood of Yurakucho in Tokyo is known today as a shopping and dining area, but also for its rows of restaurants and casual eateries under the brick arches along the elevated tracks of the JR Yamanote line and along the streets that flank the tracks on either side of the station.

At first glance, a shop like Café Benisica may seem out of place in this area surrounded by cheap izakayas and yakitori shops. In the Showa Era, however, before BIC Camera took over the land where the Sogo Department Store used to thrive, before the Nichigeki movie theater closed in the 80s and Yurakucho, together with neighboring Hibiya, was the heart of the movie and entertainment district of Tokyo, Café Benisica was one of many coffee shops in the area. Due to its proximity to the station and the movie theaters, it was also a favorite hangout for couples before going out to an afternoon or an evening in front of the silver screen.

Although most of the other Yurakucho coffee shops from that era have disappeared, Café Benisica has weathered the tide of the times, supported by the community as well as faithful patrons.

Café Benisica

On first approach, the window display makes it clear that this is an establishment with history. Tall siphon brewing machines from a former era share space with menus and food displays.

source: Grape Japan

source: Grape Japan

Siphon Brewed Coffee

Step inside. After you get adjusted to the warm, yellow light and the nostalgic decor, you'll surely notice the coffee counter where you are presented with further evidence that Café Benisica takes siphon-brewing seriously.

After all, although the food is good and the pizza toast is famous, Café Benisica is truly a kohi kaikan 珈琲会館, a "house of coffee."

source: Grape Japan

When you order a cup of their house blend, a svelte barista in a black bowtie takes out one of the many siphon pots lining the counter, along with an old-fashioned sand-filled hourglass timer and fills the lower pot with water, then lights the burner.

source: Grape Japan

Then, he measures just the right amount of coffee from one of several large, red tin containers, pours it in the upper canister and attaches it to the water pot, then overturns the timer to begin the brew.

source: Grape Japan

At your table, the coffee is served from the same siphon, minus the upper canister, and poured into a beautiful blue porcelain cup. A small pewter milk jug joins the coffee on your table. Many varieties of coffee are available but the house blend is the most popular choice. Mild yet flavorful, it's worth it's 700 yen price tag.

source: Grape Japan

The Birthplace of Japanese Pizza Toast

No review of this venerable establishment would be complete without mentioning that Café Benisica was the birthplace of Japanese-style pizza toast. According to owner Setsuko Murakami, in the early 60s, pizza was not a common presence in Tokyo. It was considered a fancy delicacy, with only a few restaurants serving it. However, the owner of Café Benisica at the time truly loved the Italian dish and wanted to create his own, simpler version. His solution was to use slices of bread instead of pizza dough. Thus, pizza toast was born. News of the invention soon spread beyond Yurakucho and Tokyo, imitators made their own version and by the time of the Olympics in 1964, pizza toast was a popular menu item in many coffee shops and eateries.

source: Grape Japan

Pizza Toast at Café Benisica might seem pricey at 950 yen, but you will be glad you spent the money after you take a few bites.

The kitchen staff begin with a soft, airy milk bread specially commissioned by the store, and butter it well. Then, they add a layer of tomato sauce, cheese, thin slivers of onion and salami, then add a top layer of cheese to seal in the flavors before baking it in the oven. Finally, they sprinkle it with dried parsley and paprika and serve. The combination of simple yet satisfying flavors together with gooey cheese and the softness of the bread make for a tasty and comforting experience. You may have had pizza toast before, but there is something special about pizza toast at Café Benisica.

The Menu

Of course, pizza toast is not the only thing on the menu. Café Benisica has a very large selection of dishes ranging from sandwiches, salads, rice and pasta dishes, including the obligatory Showa Era favorite Spaghetti Napolitan made with ketchup, a bevy of deserts ranging from pancakes to parfaits, and both cold and hot drinks such as teas, flavored coffees, cocoa, and more. Reflecting the changing times, they've also included more contemporary items like soy milk smoothies to please the younger crowd.

source: Grape Japan

source: Grape Japan

source: Grape Japan

60 Years of Coffee Shop History on Display

Before you pay your bill and leave Café Benisica for the bustle of the Yurakucho streets, take a look at the variety of old coffee equipment on display.

source: Grape Japan

If you're a history buff or a coffee afficionado, the table closest to the entrance is your best bet since you will be sitting right next to an impressive display of old siphon brewing machines and apparatuses, while also having a good view of the old coffee mills of various sizes on display in a case beneath the cash register.

source: Grape Japan

Café Benisica is a little corner of the Showa Era at the heart of the Yurakucho district. Come for the great coffee, come for the scrumptious pizza toast, come to savor the relaxing, nostalgic mood. If you can speak a bit of Japanese, owner Setsuko Murakami will be happy to talk to you about her shop and the history of the neighborhood.

You'll be glad you dropped in.


Café Benisica (Japanese: 珈琲館 紅鹿舎 )

1-6-8 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-Ku, Tokyo, 100-0006 (Japanese: 千代田区有楽町1-6-8)

Nearest train station: JR Yurakucho or Tokyo Metro Hibiya (3 min walk)

Reservations: No

Credit Card: No

Smoking: Separate smoking / no-smoking sections

Hours: Every day 9:30~23:45 (last order for food: 23:00, drinks: 23:30)

Tel: 03-3502-0848 Fax: 03-3502-0777

By - grape Japan editorial staff.