A trip to Japan will make most people aware of the nation’s drinking culture. Not only do the Japanese pride themselves on sake (or nihonshu or shochuu if you want to be technical), but they also have a wide variety of cocktails that is sure to never bore any man or woman old enough to consume alcohol. Now, where can one find an establishment to drown himself in said beverages? The most common place would be an izakaya.
Some of you Japanophiles may already know what an “izakaya” is, but for the rest, it’s simply a Japanese-style tavern or bar. Let me list the most attractive traits of an izakaya: the drinks are cheap, the food is good, and the service is fast and polite. Obviously, there are exceptions, but I will be introducing one that clears these standards and even adds a little twist: you’ll travel back more than half a century into the past to experience the Showa period of Japan.
Hakuri Tabai Hanbey is an izakaya chain – there are more than 50 branches nationwide and they all operate under one central theme: the early Showa period. The Showa period signifies the time the Showa Emperor Hirohito reigned over Japan, which corresponds to the years 1928 until 1989. Japan toughed through many obstacles during this era, but it was a period that also mixed the old “washiki” style and a newer, more Western atmosphere achieved through an explosive economic growth. Hanbey allows customers to immerse themselves into this period with nostalgic decorations and layouts.
For an elderly person, this bar would be a throwback; for a younger customer, Hanbey provides a new sensation of being able to drink in an atmosphere similar to that of his or her parents’ generation.
It’s not only the facade of the izakaya that gives Hanbey its old-school ambiance; the food and drinks are also Showa-oriented. Starting with the classic yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) and other kushiyaki, the tavern offers a wide variety of casual Japanese dishes like okonomiyaki (a Japanese pizza-like dish) and yakisoba (stir-fried noodles). You can also buy classic snacks sold from way back in the ’70s, if you’re ever curious.
Beverage-wise, there’s a whole array of shochu cocktails (aka chuuhai), plum liquor, wine, and the famed Black Nikka whiskey favored by hardworking men from the ’60s. If you’re an avid beer lover, you can always order a kettle of beer, which amounts to roughly six to seven pints.
The appeal of this bar doesn’t end here – perhaps the most attractive quality of Hanbey is its affordable prices. In fact, their motto “hakuri tabai” means “small margin and quick return” in English, so in other words, the izakaya prides itself on good quality, delicious meals and drinks served at a discount price to its customers.
Most of the food on the menu don’t cost more than 100 yen – the kushiyaki that Hanbey is known for costs a mere 50 yen! The drinks are also sold for a reasonable price, with a pint of beer costing only 290 yen (whereas other establishments will ask for 500 yen). Scrumptious dishes paired with low-cost drinks add up to a Japanese feast like you’ve never experienced.
I, myself, frequently visit the Shibuya Center Street branch of Hanbey with my friends. It is located on the second floor of a building situated across a video arcade, so if you ever want to experience the modern Japanese gaming scene before or after enjoying the izakaya, this branch is perfect. Every time I go to Hanbey, it’s with the simple intention of having fun. The tavern helps me accomplish this goal by providing a cozy, old-style environment, serving good food, and getting me drunk.
So if any of you would like to have a taste of this bliss, go check out one of their branches. If you want to be extra prudent in securing a table after reading this article, make sure to reserve a seat before going to the tavern. Some branches even accept online reservations, so call your friends, hop online (Japanese only), make the reservation, and you’ve got yourself a night to remember!
Hakuri Tabai Hanbey Website *Japanese only
There are many branches, but we will introduce one of them here.