Perched in the Dakota Lounge, it’s easy to imagine that you’re soaring above west Tokyo on a luxurious flight during the golden years of commercial aviation.
In the 1930s, when the first Douglas DC-3, nicknamed the Dakota, took to the sky, air travel was the preserve of the rich and famous. Ordinary folk traveled by rail or sea.
However, technical advances in flight spurred by the Great War meant that air lanes were rapidly opening to exotic destinations. And the aircraft that many passengers traveled on then and for decades after was the DC-3.
The Dakota Lounge, on the top floor of the Showakan Hotel, is styled a little like the interior of an old aircraft, although the massive windows lining one wall give diners the sort of panoramic view that only a wing-walker could get in the good old days.
One wall features a painting of Tokyo by night as it would be seen staring down across the wing of a Dakota in flight. Behind the well-stocked bar and in the corridor leading to the cafe there are plenty of art deco decorations and old photographs to add to the atmosphere.
Waiters and waitresses wear the uniforms of flight attendants and wheel out meals on trays to customers just as they would in flight — except the seats are a million times more comfortable and spacious than those on a real plane, and they aren’t bolted to the floor and facing in the same direction.
Jun Sato, the cafe’s manager, said the restaurant was given an aviation theme and named Dakota to reflect the area’s history.
“It sounded better than Gooney Bird,” he said, referring to the Dakota’s other nickname.
Most of the lunch patrons at the lounge are local women. In the evenings, businessmen entertain clients there and Americans from Yokota sometimes bring guests, Sato said.
On Monday nights the cafe hosts live jazz between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Before and during World War II, the area where the Showakan stands was the site of a massive aviation manufacturing and testing complex made up of numerous factories and three airfields, including the modern-day Yokota Air Base.
Showa Hikoki (Aircraft), which still owns much of the land surrounding the Showakan, made engines for Dakotas that were used by the Japanese Imperial Army prior to and during World War II, Sato said.
The military version of the Dakota, known as the C-47 Skytrain, was brought to Japan by the U.S. Air Force.
According to Capt. Ray Geoffroy, Yokota Air Base spokesman, some C-47s were assigned to the 8th Combat Cargo Squadron, which helped ferry troops and supplies to Yokota and other Japanese bases after WWII.
In the post-war years, nearby Tachikawa Air Base — now a large botanical garden named Showa Park — was home to the U.S. Air Forces airlift mission, which likely involved C-47s from the 374th Troop Carrier Wing, he said.
These days, diners at Dakota have a ringside view of the U.S. Air Force’s C-130 Hercules cargo planes practicing take-offs, landings and cargo drops on the flight line at Yokota.
They also have a bird’s-eye view of Showa no Mori (forest), 20 acres that was once part of the aircraft manufacturing complex and has been planted with pines and Japan’s famous cherry blossom trees.
DAKOTA LOUNGELocation: From Yokota Air Base’s East Gate, turn right and drive towards the Mori Town mall. Turn right one block before the mall and the Showakan Hotel is on your right.
Phone: Reservations must be made in Japanese. Call 042-542-8787
Cost: One plate lunch costs 2,100 yen.