ASCII by Jason Scott

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iMaid —

Did I mention I went to a Maid Cafe in Toronto this holiday? No, I guess I didn’t.

This place called the iMaid Cafe got all sort of weblog interest over the past few months, with people flipping out about, in order:

  • There are things called “Maid Cafes” in Japan
  • There are lots of them and they’re really weird
  • There is a Maid Cafe opening in Toronto
  • Toronto is kind of near the US so it’s like one’s opening in the US
  • Something’s gone wrong and we’re all going to die

As it is, I spend some of my holidays up in Toronto so I decided it was a primo time to sneak off and go to this one, before (I assumed) it would utterly fail and disappear into footnoted history. I had no idea where the address was in relation to anything else, or what this place would entail, or anything that would resemble a plan.

Maid Cafes in Japan are basically weird hostess-filled clubs where all the girls (it’s generally all girls) dress up in a theme or along some sort of standardized costume, and then they fawn over you, get you drinks (or sometimes there are guys who do nothing but serve drinks while the girls hang out) and everyone has what I’m sure passes for a fantastic time. Some of these places are innocent as a theme park and some are as flat-out-pornographic as your tired little businessman heart desires. What they are, compared to certain segments of sensibilities, is weird. Harmless, but weird. I like harmless weird. I decided I was going to see this thing.

As it turns out, it’s in what is percieved to be a not nice area but in fact is not nice simply because it’s boring. The landscape is mostly barren, the housing is either mundane or pretty-looking but predictable, and the streets are clean, uninspiring and, from what little I saw of them, safe. It was also nowhere near the Toronto city center, or even in what would be considered urban area, which I would think stands as a prerequisite for a restaurant where the girls dress up in maids. Who gets that weird out in the suburbs?

I was happy to see, upon entering, that things were actually rather nice. Located at the base of an apartment building, in a range of stores which were Chinese-lettered first and English-lettered second, you normally wouldn’t look at this place twice while driving down the road. Or maybe even three times. But with its neat black-and-white checkerboard theme dominating the floor, menus and general decor, I wouldn’t find the whole thing out of place in any mall anywhere. It just happened to be that the waitress was dressed rather unusually:

The food was good; my buddy and I had bubble tea (which they had an enormous selection of). I had a beef curry and I am completely forgetting what my dining companion had, but it also had rice and some sort of meat. The soups were “chinese soup” which tasted as expected, and we forewent desert since the bubble tea fulfilled that role nicely. I was surprised by the range of selection in the menu: besides bubble tea, curry, rice dishes, and soups, there were also sandwiches and deli-like selections as well. A perfectly good, solid selection, not depending on the “gimmick” to get people to keep coming back. There was a widescreen TV up on the wall playing gangsta rap music videos, which was a tad odd. After a while, I started to notice that the videos themselves were pirated, all of them containing tags for the IRC channels the groups hung out in. I thought that made everything nicely Cyberpunk. Snoop Dogg was in the vast majority of them.

Places like this are like crack to weblogs: easily describable, easy to formulate a quick-n-easy opinion on, to make fun of or go “how cool” and then move on to the next easy target. Critically, these places need a website or a weblog with a mention/photo of the subject so the other weblogs can easily link there. Maybe I’m just in a weird phase of my life but if I can I try and make the effort to see what the thing being discussed is really like. I didn’t entirely know what to expect but I knew I wanted to see this “Maid Cafe”, and while it was in fact nothing like the Maid Cafes as I heard they are in Japan (for one thing, the waitress was flat-out a waitress, not a hostess, and she refused to let me take my picture with her), it was, on its own, a solid little place with a gimmick. Even without the gimmick they’d get business.

Reality failed me again, in this case, although if it was really like I’d truly imagined I’d probably have been arrested. I’ll be sure to compare this place to a real one in Japan one of these years. Until then, sayonara.

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One Comment

  1. Shii says:

    So sorry to hear that it’s not an actual Akihabara-style maid cafe. But still, a cafe with maid outfits and bubble tea is surely a welcome thing in any city, and I am jealous of Toronto that they got one first.