Amazon's pop-up bar in Tokyo

Monday, 30. October 2017 - 17:15

As if the retail behemoth didn’t have enough irons in the fire already it is also dipping its toes into the bar business. Corporate executives at Amazon are clearly curious to see if they can take on the on-premise side of the wine business, despite the recent closure of Amazon Wine.

Since 20 October, Amazon has hosted a pop-up bar in Tokyo’s swanky Ginza area, another example of the retail giant’s interest in bricks-and-mortar businesses, as evidence by its August acquisition of the Whole Foods supermarket in the U.S.

The pop-up bar has certainly proved popular, with people queuing for up to four hours for a chance to get inside the 78-seat bar. One of those who managed to get inside reported to Meininger’s that the bar was packed. The Japanese 30-something woman said she had to wait in line for almost an hour just to get a ticket to return in two hours, whereupon she had to wait another half an hour to order. She said the process didn’t make much sense and wasn’t well explained to guests.

That the citizens of Tokyo – a city full of vibrant nightlife – were prepared to wait for so long, speaks to the immense popularity of the concept. Amazon has existed as an online sales entity in Japan for sometime, and launched a wine sommelier customer service in 2016, but this is one of their first forays into the bar business.

The interior

Once at the Amazon bar, guests fill out a brief questionnaire about their drink preferences on a tablet and the tablet then makes suggestions based on wines and spirits that Amazon stocks. There is also a wine sommelier on hand to help consumers choose what wines to drink.

According to Japan Today, drinks cost between 500 and 1,500 yen ($4.00 to $12.00), which is a relative bargain for Tokyo. However, the tablets reportedly weren’t easy to use and short seating windows didn’t allow some guests the chance to try a second drink.

The local who spoke to Meininger’s added that she saw many new wine and spirits brands, but that no one could answer her questions about them. She said she also found the entrance to be sleek, as expected, but the interior bar area—outfitted with cork shelving—wasn’t very stylish.

Inside the bar, circular white tables displayed a half-dozen spirits bottles with a big sign in the middle that said “Amazon Bar,” apparently made of cork. Backlit bottles of wines and spirits lined the shelves around the exterior of the room. Plastic food menus and drink-order tablets were placed on the table and distributed to guests as they arrived.

The local’s conclusion was that the bar experience was positive and that she would love to see more bars of this kind if they actually offered consumers a chance to try new products and were more accessible.

The famously reticent Amazon declined to comment or provide any details about the bar or if they plan to host more of them in other cities. A pop-up of this kind would be much more complicated to organise in other countries, such as the US, as Amazon would have to go through a long and difficult licensing process, said adds John Trinidad, senior counsel in the Napa office of Dickenson Peatman & Fogarty, a law firm that focuses on the wine industry.

The pop-up bar is due to close 30 October 2017.
Liza B. Zimmerman