Growing up in Buffalo, John Mark Bechtel came of age working in his uncle's Hertel Avenue bar, where he began to cultivate an appreciation for Genny Cream Ale and pinball.
When his musical career took him around the world as a rock musician, Johny Chow, his nom du rock, was enraptured by the bars he discovered in the hidden byways of Tokyo.
Three years ago, the bassist for alt-metal band Stone Sour started jotting down ideas for a place to call his own. With the encouragement of building owner Roger Trettel, he decided on 521 Main St. The front door faces the Hyatt Regency Buffalo.
As Misuta Chow's Aug. 3 grand opening approaches, he shared some insights on how the unique two-story bar-restaurant-arcade happened. With Christi Allen, his partner in life and business, he's created a place to share his vision with his hometown.
"We're not just pulling down walls and throwing in a bar. We're trying to create an experience here for people," Chow said. "It's not just the culinary experience, or the libations. We want it to be a place where you walk in here and you say, 'What the hell is going on here?'"
Chow, 46, has been playing music his entire adult life. Most of it was not a deluxe experience, the sort of tours where you found lodging by asking the crowd if anyone has a couch to crash on. The last 12 or 15 years have been more of a "proper tour, a bus and a rider, where I've been able to really support myself."
That's how he got to Tokyo. The first floor echoes the Tokyo alleyways that caught his imagination. Not all the details are finished, he noted, but the ones that are speak volumes to the granularity of his vision.
There's windows with blinds drawn, one with a light behind it. A dented air conditioner protrudes from another. The details go down to rust stains "leaking" down the wall. Wooden roofs that would have sheltered customers from rain in the alleyway line both sides. One has what looks like moss clinging to its shingles.
"I'm a visual artist as well," he said. "Tiny details are everything to me."
Yet to come: an old-fashioned telephone pole with bunches of telephone lines strung overhead, echoing what he saw in those alleys when he looked up. A rain gutter is coming as well.
The kitchen, run by Dunbar Berdine, most recently of Dockside in North Tonawanda, stretches along one side of the first floor. A counter and stools sheltered by a narrow roof are more nods to Tokyo alley-scape.
Above the open kitchen is a sign in Japanese that translates to "Dunbar's yum-yum," said Chow. The food menu, scheduled for unveiling at Misuta Chow's grand opening, draws from Japanese street food.
Until then, Misuta Chow's offers two bars, pinball, video games, and Skee-ball. Video games include Galaga, Centipede and Q*bert.
"Up here was me growing up," he said on the second floor, with details like the checkerboard bar, the Miller High Life and Genny Cream Ale, and the video games. Together, the two floors have everything he wanted a bar to have. "I put this on me years ago," he said, showing an "I Did It My Way" tattoo on his right forearm. "I try to live my life that way."
Chow mentioned an app he uses on tour to discover cool places in unknown cities. He'd like Misuta Chow's to be the kind of place that shows up on the "coolest bars" app listing, and that Buffalonians will be eager to show their friends.
Chow said he was thrilled to have Misuta Chow's be part of a resurgent downtown nightlife that recently saw openings like Lucky Day Whiskey Bar and Angelica Tea Room.
John Mark Bechtel dropped out from Bennett High School, but Johny Chow has done pretty well for himself.
"You know what was a real cool moment for me?" he said. "Mom and Dad came in here the other day for the soft opening. I could see the tears in my mom's eyes. I told her, 'See, I didn't turn out so bad, did I Mom?' And I got the biggest hug."