The smell of Cape Cod air, cherry blossoms in spring, and burnt chicken skin. The sound of waves crashing on the beach and belly laughs. The taste of rare whisky, matcha, and briny razor clams. The feel of a fat, happy raccoon dog with, um, an “obvious scrotum.” These are the promises of Tanuki, an eventual Provincetown izakaya, laid out in founder Bekah Powers’ successful $50,000 Kickstarter campaign earlier this year.
But before Tanuki debuts as an izakaya, it will be a Japanese street snack shop, opening July 1 in the Happy Camper space (227 Commercial St., Provincetown), likely remaining there through the fall shoulder season and perhaps longer.
“This iteration of Tanuki is our first brick-and-mortar phase,” Powers, an alum of Drink in Boston, told Eater. “It gets us closer to the ultimate goal of being a full-fledged izakaya. Whether or not it’s in this space or elsewhere remains to be seen.”
Last year, Powers met Happy Camper owners Rob Anderson and Loic Rossignon through mutual restaurant friends and ran a Tanuki pop-up at their holiday market at the Canteen, their other business (which remains open).
Taking over the Happy Camper space was “a last-minute (but awesome) decision,” so this version of Tanuki is the way to open quickly, working within Happy Camper’s existing licenses and layout. That means no booze or seating — for now.
“It’s no secret that I want to sell beer, sake, shochu, and whisky as soon as possible, and the town licensing board knows my application is coming,” said Powers.
“I’m in a very unique position to ‘try before I buy,’” she said. “If this space doesn’t feel right after a few months, we will seek another Commercial Street location.” If it does, Powers will ultimately apply for bar and table seating. For the time being, the bones of Happy Camper remain the same, although redecorated in “the Tanuki aesthetic,” tying together Powers’ love of Provincetown and Japan.
Opening in Provincetown feels like coming full circle for Powers, whose childhood memories there include skateboarding with her best friend, “strutting down the street like [they] owned it,” and getting a bunch of ear piercings without permission at 13 — “the first true moment of freedom,” said Powers, “and that came from that town.”
Provincetown institution Napi’s, where she’s spent nearly every birthday, provides inspiration, too. “That’s my place where I go when it’s raining or cold or I just need to be comforted,” Powers said. “The Portuguese kale soup tastes exactly the same as it did in 1990 or probably in 1970. So many higher-end restaurants can’t pull off consistency, and that’s one of my own big fears. But going into this old-school restaurant where you always know what you’re going to get, and it’s always going to be comforting? That’s super inspiring to me.”
As for Japan? “I came from an art dealer family,” she said, “and had early exposure to Asian art. My first time in a Japanese restaurant was somewhere in New York in the mid-1980s. I was mesmerized by the photographic sushi menu and lacquer serviceware. When I cleaned out my dad’s house after he died a few years ago, I came across a watercolor of two geishas kneeling at a tatami table and drinking tea. I had painted it around that same time I was first exposed to Japanese food. My whole life is peppered with visceral memories of appreciating (and often unwittingly appropriating) Asian, and specifically Japanese, culture. That fire has yet to die.”
Powers honeymooned in Japan, tearing up while watching the maiko (geisha-in-training) dance at the Sakura Matsuri in Kyoto. “I could have died happy right there if I had a stick of yakitori in my hand,” she said. “It’s the same joy I get when I walk out to Captain Jack’s Wharf. Bliss in technicolor.”
Indeed, it’s that photographic Provincetown wharf that inspires Tanuki’s vibe. “If Captain Jack’s were in Kyoto, that’s what this space is going to feel like,” Powers said. Flowers, Asian ceramics, glass buoys, paper lanterns — ”natural and beautiful but also super weird and Provincetown, with this essence of Kyoto or Osaka.”
Uni sushi chef Akira Sugimoto (who’s not leaving Uni) is helping Powers a bit with the food; see the embedded opening menu below. “I am giddy,” said Powers. “Akira makes gorgeous, sumptuous food.”
Tanuki’s coffee selection will include high-end (“I’m a super coffee snob,” Powers said) and not — likely Brewster’s Snowy Owl Coffee for the former; hopefully Suntory Boss, a canned Japanese vending machine staple, for the latter. “I will do whatever it takes to sell them,” said Powers. “It’s a huge part of what inspired this project in the first place.”
Tanuki’s approximate summer schedule may include lunch from noon to 5 p.m., reopening around 7 p.m. with snacks and beverages, right as Tea Dance lets out. “Provincetown is a party town,” Powers said, “so an espresso or matcha and a filling snack can help keep one going strong all night long.”
She’s hoping that Tanuki can serve as a “cruise spot” for the summer crowds. “I’m ready for every bear from the A-House.” Powers said. “They’re drunk, they’re hungry, they’re engrossed in conversation with whomever they’ve met that evening, and they just want a little snack to soak up some of that alcohol. Maybe some romance blossoms. One of my favorite things to do is to make relationships happen, whether love or lust or friendship. I like being that conduit for people to meet, so it would be really nice if my shop could be that space for that community at that time of the night.” (Ultimately late-night hours will depend on demand, staffing, and the feelings of the licensing board.)
“I just keep pinching myself,” said Powers of the culmination of it all. “It feels really magical...and also cheesy. But I get tingles when I think about it.”
• A Drink Alum Wants to Open an Awesome-Sounding Provincetown Izakaya [EBOS]
• Tanuki [Official Site]