Japan has a lot of foreign bars and clubs, but one of its most famous hangout places for drinking and eating is the Izakayas. Generally, most Japanese people especially the university students tend to spend more time at the izakayas than the usual bars. Nonetheless, izakayas are located in the nightlife area as well as the areas far from the nightlife environment (e.g. universities).
Mayhap one of the only similarities between a bar and an izakaya is the fact that they serve alcohol. The differences, on the other hand, are abundant to the point where they shouldn’t even be compared. However, due to the fact that they are both frequently visited as a means of having a good time with good company and alcohol beverages, they could be compared.
When it comes to the alcohol itself, the izakayas have many offers of nomihoodai (all you can drink) for a certain amount of time that will save you a lot of money. On average, a drink from a bar could cost you around 500¥; at the izakaya, however, a nomihoodai for 90 minutes could cost you on average between 1000-2000¥ and can get you as many drinks as you desire while you can. Some may argue, however, that due to this contrast, the alcohol quality (percentage in drinks) is lower than the bars. (E.g. If you want a Gin&Tonic from a bar you’ll get a regular good one, the Izakaya one, on the other hand, will contain more Tonic than Gin and thusly taste pretty weak).
Unlike a bar where seats aren’t exactly isolated but rather situated next to the others, Izakayas have their own booths and in many cases their own private rooms. That could mainly be due to the fact that they serve food. With the presence of waiters, each booth is occupied by a certain amount of people that usually want to spend time there with their own entourage rather than the surroundings. Some izakayas actually contain private rooms that could occupy as much as thirty people and they tend to often be booked in advance.
Unless an izakaya is known to be quiet; with the characteristics mentioned above, they are usually filled with a lot of different groups from work friends to university buddies to exclusive circle members etc.. making them super noisy on a busy day. With all the noise and waiter rush, a calm bar is more recommended for a quiet type of night.
In addition to the alcohol, they have different food varieties (but mainly yakitori: type of skewered chicken). Many argue that the food is of small portion and should be not be considered a proper meal but a side dish, however, from a personal experience and from individuals who eat in large portions, they can fill you up pretty satisfyingly. They are also considered inexpensive. And with the variety of meat and other types of Japanese dishes you’ll get full regretting not having tried everything on the menu. (N.b. they also offer tabehoodai (all you can eat) in some for a limited amount of time but they are usually much more expensive than nomihoodais)
Even though most izakayas are cheap and large, many are considered small, exclusive and pretty fancy, however, these are mostly found in the fancy areas. You can actually find very traditional izakayas where generally university students or newly employed aren’t found due to the super high prices in comparison with normal drinking places.