It’s Saturday morning, and I’m lodged in my counter seat at Lodge Bread, one of Culver City’s newest metropolis-status breakfast options, and one of my favorite places these days. Coming here Saturday mornings, for me, replaces a previous habit of many years, that’s is: showing up Saturdays at Tokyo 7-7. Recently on the Culver City Facebook page, where we share timely and pertinent information and lively discussions about all matters Culver City, the topic of Tokyo 7-7 came up. We all waxed nostalgic; nothing will ever replace Tokyo 7-7, so to preserve its memory, I dedicate this piece to Tokyo 7-7.
To begin with, there is the question of why it was 7-7, and not 77. Japanese establishment that it was, there was a baseball-themed aspect to the posters on the walls. If I remember correctly, the 7’s were homage to two 7-numbered baseball players…or something like that. The dusty-looking (it was not), run-down (it was) little establishment had windows all around. The thing I dislike most stridently about the current inhabiter of the space is that they concreted up all of the windows. Because it was windowed on all sides, the little place was bright, and allowed for seeing, and being seen.
The fare was breakfast and/or lunch, including the most basic of “occidental” items like: eggs, pancakes, toast, and bacon. For people satisfied with simply-cooked versions of those items, you got ’em all for something like $2.00. You’d get two pancakes and bacon or a version thereof: breakfast A, B or C, no substitutions. But we went for the Japanese specialties.
Among things like teriyaki this or that, or a few soba dishes they had, wait, let me say it: The Royales. Yes, Rutt’s, another wonderful, traditional, Culver City establishment, does have them, but they are NOT the same. The Tokyo 7-7 Royales were expertly crafted omelettes of your choice of meat (or just veggies), with a few bean sprouts and green onions, over rice, with a thick and viscous teriyaki sauce on top, and you could ask for extra on the side. We’d mostly get the Ham-baa-gu Roy-a-ru, which had finely chopped beef hamburger meat strewn through the well-cooked, brown-edged, omelette. I try to approximate making it once in a while,
I forget how I originally found out about the place. We visited regularly before or after our sons’ Saturday sports “responsibilities,” which began with one or two bouts of Little League baseball, included an odyssey of AYSO soccer, but throughout, and for the longest duration, was mostly YMCA and/or LA Parks and Recreation basketball. We’d go as a family of four, and when we got divorced, 7-7 time was divided along with our every-other-weekend custody schedule. Since the place wasn’t open on Sundays and we all wanted our fix, we sometimes ran into each other there, which amounted to an extra glimpse of our babies when on opposite custodial time. With limited hours to begin with (just breakfast-lunch, Monday-Saturday) Tokyo 7-7 was like Cheers; you’d always know who you were going to meet there. In addition to friends who already frequented the place right along with us, notably, I met a future colleague and his wife there. We bonded over our 7-7 ritual and became the best of friends to this day.
We’d occasionally sit at one of the Formica tables for three or four, or in one of the the ripped up Naugahyde booths, but we favored the counter area in the middle of the restaurant. Another rant of mine against the current establishment is that if I knew I could at least belly up to a bar placed where the old counter was, maybe I’d set foot in there with old 7-7 friends or whoever. Alas, although the shape of the building is the same, they changed that footprint, too.
The location of Tokyo 7-7 was, and is still, unique; one of the best parts about it. The only way you can say it is this: it could be found in the little alley off Main Street, behind the thrift store, and next to the parking garage that’s behind Akasha. The address was apparently 3839 Main Street, Suite B, which is why, perhaps, the current establishment is attached to the bar which fronts onto Main Street.
In any case, we’d walk in and search for three seats in a row at the bar. The seats that encircled the corners were best, because mommy could sit in the middle of her two boys and we all could see each other. We’d enrolled my boys in El Marino Language School’s Japanese Immersion program, in an attempt to instill my own fluency in them. The fluency never stuck, but the love of the culture has prevailed to this day. I’d order for myself in Japanese, and make my sons put I their orders in Japanese as well. It was a chance to actually speak the language outside of the school scenario (and outside of Japan, where we went once a year in their formative years). I could schep naches just from hearing them say, “O-Mizu Kudasai” (water, please) The waitresses all knew us there, and we them, and they knew our typical orders by heart too, but allowed the kids to feel the sense of accomplishment of actually using their Japanese skills.
Tokyo 7-7 was a family place, a place to meet old friends, and a place to make new ones. Like many of the Japanese-American owned establishments in this part of town, from LA’s Sawtelle area north, to the Centinela area to the west of us, it’s unique, and most only remain in our memories. That’s why I want to make this effort to remember, and transcribe. If you read this and want to share your memories of 7-7, write in!