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A Visit to Royal-T: LA’s Maid Cafe

Eating at the cafe
Eating at the cafe

This afternoon, my anime club Anime Souffle took a visit to Royal-T–the LA area’s only maid cafe. It’s my first experience at any kind of maid cafe, and it was definitely surprising in some respects.

The first question pretty much any otaku would ask–are the maids cute?–can be answered with a definitive “yes!” Here’s one example for the proof.

Meido! Moe!

It’s there where the similarities end to what I know about the Akihabara maid cafes, though. The maids do not call you “master.” Nor are there hosts who call their female customers “ojou-sama.” Nor is the clientele mainly maid up of male nerdy otaku. Founded by art collector Susan Hancock, Royal-T is as much a contemporary art museum as it is a cafe, filled with Takashi Murakami art as well as other Japanese pop-culture inspired exhibits. Today, for instance, a Japanese artist named Ai Madonna came by to do a live demonstration of her manga-style drawings. She drew not only on the wall in an exhibition space in the cafe’s rear, but also on the blouses of girls wearing schoolgirl uniforms.

Ai Madonna's artwork

That should tell you something about the nature of this cafe–it’s not just for the otaku. There is a definite “trendy” vibe to the place that has one step as much in the contemporary art gallery world as it does in the otaku world. Sure, there are anime songs playing on the screen; there are a few cosplayers, like the ones from my club, dressed up as anime characters. But the customers include real Japanese people (who look normal, not otakuish), and more fashionable types sipping tea, and the prices of the food are in line with the rather upscale demographic this place aims at. Think Pinkberry for the closest analogue I can imagine: very colorful and modern. It’s a maid cafe for people who would probably turn up their noses at what a “real” Japanese maid cafe would be like. It’s much more like a fusion, high-concept place for otaku and art lovers alike.

A Murakami sculpture with his trademark smiley-face flower

I might sound like I’m faulting the place when I describe it that way for an anime/manga audience, but that would be inaccurate. A “genuine” maid cafe would have little or no chance of sustaining a business in the United States: there just aren’t enough otaku of that sort here, and I don’t think many American women would go for calling their customers “master” in a non-ironic way. Instead, Royal-T uses the maid-cafe concept as a starting point to introduce people to contemporary Japanese art in general; they also sponsor showings of classic Japanese movies alongside their art exhibitions. By broadening the audience they can hopefully remain in business as well as give what I think is a fairly unique experience for the customer.

One thing was definitely very otakuish though–the maids are more than willing to pose for pictures, and there was a Japanese man with a nice camera who was happily snapping away at them and at other places in the cafe. Some things, I guess, can’t ever possibly change.

A Maid and the (Anime) Souffle

I recommend this place for its atmosphere and for American otaku dying to get a glimpse of something like a maid cafe, but can’t afford to travel to Japan. They serve good tea, as their name might imply, and you’ll get that tea brought to you by a woman in a maid outfit. What else can a fan ask for?

Royal-T is located on 8910 Washington Blvd, Culver CIty, CA 90232.

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