Alcatraz Island served as a high security federal prison between the years of 1934 to 1963 in San Francisco, holding some of American history’s most notorious criminals (including Al Capone). Although Alcatraz Island itself has since become a popular tourist destination (declared a National Historic Landmark in 1986) and something of a popular culture phenomenon in the US, only Japan would manage to somehow incorporate Alcatraz into their booming world of Japanese cafés.
Alcatraz E.R. is a prison-asylum-hospital (identity crisis much?) themed restaurant located in Shibuya, Tokyo. The decor involves dimmed red-toned lighting, prison cells, and bloody hand prints on the walls–all very appetizing. The waitstaff is dressed as doctors or nurses and offer drinks in beakers and test tubes, as well as food served in dishware that heavily resembles bedpans. Some lucky tables get their food served with a bloody, severed doll head! Different areas of the restaurant have different sub-themes, such as “X-ray room” or “maternity unit.” Reviews on TripAdvisor praise the haunted house-like thrills found in the restaurant, like an animatronic monster in a prison cell, and the fun sexual undertones (many reviews emphasis that this was NOT a family-friendly establishment). However, many reviewers complain that the restaurant is overpriced, with a 500¥ cover charger and expensive drinks and food options. Overall, it seems that most customers appreciate Alcatraz E.R. for the ambience rather than the culinary experience.
I’m all for a sexy asylum experience, yet I doubt that this sort of themed restaurant would go over well in the US. For many Americans, asylums represent an outdated outlook towards mental health, and to commercialize something that was an institutional threat for our predecessors could be interpreted as insensitive.
Do you think this place is creepy, cool, or insensitive? Would you add Alcatraz E.R. to the list of Japanese cafés on your Tokyo itinerary? Let us know in the comments!