It wasn’t our first time going to Niki’s Tokyo Inn. We thought we knew what to expect as last time we had dined at a table with chairs while wearing shoes on our feet. Had I known the situation ahead, perhaps I would have thrown on a glitzy toe-ring.
Based purely on observation, I think Niki’s main clientele consists of two main groups: locals who’s families have come to the restaurant since it opened and installed the funky houndstooth carpet decades ago, and those seeking the most Japanese “Japanese food” in San Antonio.
Though not a bar, Niki’s Tokyo Inn is divey. There is no way around the word and there is no other word in English that describes the atmosphere more accurately. From the dim lighting accented by candlelight to the shades painted black to block out the sun and surroundings outside (or is it to conceal the activities within), there’s a hint of mystique that almost feels illegal. And that’s what makes it fun.
Going back to the subject of being caught with our shoes off: Niki’s has three seating options that I know of. I had no idea the “traditional room” even existed until our last visit so maybe there is also a secret bathhouse room and secret karaoke room or secret dance party room.
If there is seating available, you can sit at the main bar/sushi counter, a Western style table, or on cushions in either the main area’s traditional Japanese seating room or the one in the back – we were sat.
If there isn’t seating available and the place is packed, you’ll probably be asked if the traditional room is okay. As soon as you have agreed it’s time to leave your shoes by the door and walk on back.
One of my favorite parts of Niki’s menu are the varied dinners. Kind of like the idea behind a prix-fixe, tapas, or bento box, the dinners offer a variety of items to try and taste with one or two serving as the main course. I’m fairly certain there is a Japanese term for this kind of meal but unfortunately it wasn’t something I learned in my Japanese classes in high school or college. Bummer.
Obviously I have come back to Niki’s over and over. I no longer feel like I’m in San Antonio let alone Texas once inside. I can’t say I feel transported to Tokyo – for one thing I’ve never been so I wouldn’t know anyway, but for another it’s hard to completely immerse when you know Las Nieves is slinging mad raspas just down the road.
But in a way, between the main restaurant and their small Japanese grocery store (not to be confused with Minnano Japanese Grocery) Niki’s Tokyo Inn has created a Japantown experience in the midst of San Antonio.
To me, it is Japantown, San Antonio.