Otome Road is a street in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro (anime fans will recognize the district as the setting for Durara!) with businesses targeted toward female anime/manga enthusiasts. Specifically yaoi/BL fangirls and fujoshi. (If you’re unfamiliar with the terms yaoi, BL, and fujoshi, erm… go to Wikipedia.)
But there’s more to Otome Road than dojinshi. It also caters to anime cosplayers and Lolita fashion enthusiasts with shops such as K-Books Cosplay-kan. But once a girl’s dressed in high style, she needs a place to strut her stuff. And where better to live out princess fantasies than at Swallowtail, Japan’s legendary butler café!
The Swallowtail Experience
Seriously, Swallowtail looks like a place you could take the Queen. It resembles a Victorian-era tearoom and offers an array of fine teas, scones and pastries, and light entrées. It has a strict no photography policy (NO pictures. AT ALL.) so I can’t show any of the interior, but take my word, it’s an absolute delight. The furnishings and chandeliers sparkle, the china is exquisite, the drapes are elegant, and there’s a wealth of nice touches from the teapot cozies to the embroidered swallowtail butterflies on the butlers’ livery. As for the patrons, they looked like they’d just come from William and Kate’s wedding. Hats, frills, gloves, matching purses – our fellow café guests were as much a part of the Swallowtail aura as the butlers.
Suffice to say, my husband and I and the two Minnesotan sisters from our group who also got 4:55 pm reservations felt woefully underdressed. The only information we had prior to showing up was that Swallowtail was Tokyo’s best butler café and that we needed reservations. We hadn’t realized it would be so highbrow. T-shirts and jeans were fine for the maid café, but our casual garb pretty much screamed foreign tourist at Swallowtail.
Still, the staff was extremely gracious. I don’t know how the regulars felt about us intruding on their velvet and gilt turf, but the butlers did not hesitate to give us the royal treatment. That, though, took some getting used to. Swallowtail doesn’t offer dancing maids or karaoke songs, but it does provide a refined air and attention. Lots of it.
Each party gets its own butler, and you ring a bell at your table to summon him. Almost everyone orders tea, and your butler will pair your drink with a cup from Swallowtail’s china collection. As he serves, he will explain the cup’s history and origins and the reason he selected it. My husband got a Japanese cup to go with his Japanese tea, and I got one with painted flowers to match the floral fragrance of mine. When you need a refill, you’re to ring the bell and the nearest butler will pour for you. We didn’t realize that at first, and the sisters’ butler got really embarrassed and flustered when one of them began pouring her own tea!
Yes, they ARE determined to wait on you hand and foot. If you go to the restroom, they escort you there (and back!) and carry your purse for you. And whenever they take their leave, they formally excuse themselves and bow (LOTS and LOTS of bowing).
Our tour’s pamphlet described Swallowtail as “pretty boys doting on your every need,” but that’s not quite accurate. They DO dote on your every need, but with the exception of one young butler who looked like a glam rock musician in tails, the age of the staff ranged from mid-20s to late 30s. Our butler seemed to be around 30, and the head butler appeared to be in his 50s. They are good-looking though and make a distinguished group in their ties and tails.
As for the clientele, the only male patrons were my husband and one other fellow on a date. He was also a first-timer, his date seemed like a regular. Everyone else was female, alone or in small groups, in their 20s or 30s, and the majority dressed in Lolita outfits. At least, that was the Friday evening crowd. Three Canadians from our group had a reservation later that night and told us the place was filled with intimidating older ladies (late 30s to 50s?) dressed to the teeth. Apparently, wanting to be treated like royalty isn’t limited to the younger set.
Important information for visiting swallowtail
So if you’ve decided you must experience Otome Road’s classiest establishment for yourself, here are some key things to keep in mind. (For a 2016 update to the Swallowtail experience, click here.)
1. You MUST have a reservation. Reservations can be made on their website. Because it is in Japanese, you may have to enlist the help of someone who knows the language.
Another way to make a reservation is in person. While online reservations have to be made a couple days in advance, Swallowtail does have limited “drop-in” reservations (that’s how the Minnesota sisters, my husband and I got in). You simply drop by the cafe and ask the host on duty if there are reservations remaining for the day. We handled this by bringing a sheet that said, “Do you have reservations available?”in Japanese to show to the host. He responded by writing down the available times for us.
2. Parties are limited to small groups. Our tour guide told us three was the max, but I did see a party of four at one table. At any rate, Swallowtail definitely could not have accommodated the 15+ party that we had at Maidreamin.
3. Allot ample time to find the café BECAUSE IT’S EASY TO MISS! Swallowtail is located BELOW ground level and has a very subdued exterior. Of the four parties from our tour group that wanted to go, ALL had difficulty locating it, and one group even missed their appointment because they couldn’t find it in time. (The butlers did send them off with scones though.) My husband and I actually circled the block twice, bought a drink at the Family Mart on the ground level, and went upstairs to the K-Books store above the café before we finally noticed the stairs leading to the basement level. While the Swallowtail placard is refined and elegant, it gets completely obscured by the brightly lit Family Mart and K-Books signs.
So if you’re headed to Swallowtail, what you really want to keep an eye out for is this corner where K-Books and a Family Mart are located. Find this building and then look for the stairs leading down.
4. Appointments are for a SET timeframe. As mentioned above, if you’re overly late, you lose your appointment. But there’s no dawdling either. Once your hour and twenty minutes are up, it’s time to go. And if you’re slow about it, the butlers will very politely but very firmly usher you out. This is Japan, after all, and they’re all about punctuality.
5. And of course, go in your best clothes. (So you don’t end up like us!)
Keep these things in mind, and you’ll have an unforgettable time at Japan’s premier butler café!