Do you like grilled meats, cheap drinks, and Japanese pop music from the 60s? That was a rhetorical question – of course you do. While there are plenty of izakaya serving these items in Tokyo, none of them are quite like Hanbey. What makes Hanbey special is its retro, WWII-era decor, lively atmosphere, and cheap yet delicious dining options. We sent our staff to one of Hanbey’s 17 locations in Tokyo to find out more.
What is an izakaya?
Unlike in Western pubs and bars, alcohol is rarely consumed without food in Japan. An izakaya is somewhere in between a bar and a restaurant; the menu is full of small, quickly prepared dishes to be ordered throughout the evening, but for many patrons the focus is on the drink menu. On any given night in Tokyo, it is common to pass by several izakaya filled to the brim with black-suited salarymen (office workers) grabbing a quick dinner and letting off some steam after work. Typical izakaya fare includes yakitori (grilled chicken on a skewer), fried foods, dumplings, soup, salads, yakisoba noodles…the list goes on.
Hanbey’s Tokyo Showa atmosphere
Hanbey is a feast for the senses. Upon entering, customers are hit with the enticing aroma of chicken smoke (this is more appetizing than it sounds), while the radio blasts old-school Japanese pop from 60 years ago. The walls are adorned with posters and advertisements from the Showa era (1926 – 1989), and vintage Japanese toys and action figures are scattered about. While most themed restaurants tend to feel forced and inauthentic, Hanbey manages to pull it off. It really feels like being transported back to the days of old Japan.
The cheerful atmosphere adds to the experience as well. A lot of izakaya tend to fill up with overworked salarymen and bored old alcoholics, but Hanbey seems to attract a younger, more lively crowd (the cheap food and drink menu probably has something to do with this). Most of the waitstaff are around university age and bring a youthful energy you won’t always find at the standard izakaya. The vibe is fun and energetic, yet casual and never overwhelming.
There are plenty of options for cheap eats in Tokyo, but often you only get what you pay for. The menu at Hanbey suits a college student’s budget, but the quality of the food is a few notches above most budget izakaya. The staples are all here (yakitori, sashimi, fried potatoes, fried noodles, rice cake, etc.) as well as items for those with a more adventurous palate (grilled frog, locusts, raw horsemeat). Drinks are big and bountiful and will only cost about 200 – 300 yen ($2 – $3) each, which is about the same price as buying them at a convenience store.
If your friends bring an appetite and like to drink, a night at Hanbey, Tokyo will cost around 2,500 – 3,000 ($25 – $30) per person. If they don’t, you should probably find new friends.
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