The owner of Casablanca Bar near Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, gets fresh lilies every week, which gives the karaoke bar a touch of class.

The owner of Casablanca Bar near Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, gets fresh lilies every week, which gives the karaoke bar a touch of class. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Imagine the following in black and white: “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in the world, she had to walk into mine.”

I was “she” — a reporter dame. But that didn’t amount to a hill of beans at this out-of-the-way joint called Casablanca.

The bar is so small, you have to back out to change your mind, but you probably won’t want to.

If Humphrey Bogart was still alive, and for some reason in Yokosuka, Japan, Casablanca’s owner feels sure that Bogie would deem the establishment “swell.” It has a touch of old-timey class that you don’t often find in watering holes that cater to sailors.

“I’m an old man, I like the old style,” said owner Masahido Takatsuki, much better known as “Charlie.”

Charlie is so much of an institution, in fact, that most people refer to the tiny bar near Yokosuka Chuo train station as “Charlie’s Place.”

“They should change the sign,” said Lt. Tom Lunsford. “He’s the reason people come here.”

But Charlie sticks by Casablanca, as the 1942 film features his favorite song, “As Time Goes By,” he said.

Charlie, 60, loves that era — his favorite crooners are Frank Sinatra and Perry Como — but he doesn’t discriminate, as the karaoke machine plays all types of tunes for 100 yen a pop. And, if you don’t want to sing, he has small musical instruments for keeping the beat. But forget about dancing unless you’re doing the “stand-in-one-place” wiggle. The bar is truly teensy-weensy.

“There’s only supposed to be 10 people in there, but we get more than that,” Charlie said. Fire marshals and claustrophobics should avoid it entirely. So should flower-phobics, as much of the bar’s valuable real estate is taken over by an enormous vase of snow-white Casablanca lilies, fresh every week. The flowers make even a smoky bar smell good.

Casablanca’s size lends itself to coziness, Charlie said.

“My customers are like my family,” he said. “I remember everyone and there are so many stories.”

Lunsford calls it “friendly,” whether you want to sing B-52s’ “Love Shack” or take a whack at something by Old Blue Eyes.

“There isn’t a soul there who doesn’t welcome you,” Lunsford said.

Most Casablanca patrons are Americans from nearby Yokosuka Naval Base — usually on the hinter side of 30 years old. This works, as these Americans don’t mind drinking while standing up or the lack of a food menu, Charlie said.

“Americans are open,” Charlie said. “They don’t mind if they’re having a good time.”

And that’s what it’s all about, he said.

“I love other people’s enjoyment,” Charlie said.

Here’s looking at you, kid.

As always, if you drink, do so responsibly. Don’t drink and drive.


Yokosuka, Japan

Drink prices: 500 yen chu-hi, 600 yen for beer and cocktails

Cover: None

Food: Just nibbling food

Entertainment: Karaoke for 100 yen a song

Clientele: Older Americans

Dress: Casual, maybe a trench coat and a rakish hat

Hours: Monday-Saturday, 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Location: Casablanca is tucked away in the pink Honda building near the Yokosuka Chuo train station. There’s a great map and lots of good information online at:

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