By Lee Tan
Do you want to experience a flashback to the Japanese Shōwa (昭和) period? Welcome to Hanbey, a national Izakaya chain noted for its impressive retro decoration. If you want to have a good time with a group of friends and enjoy a taste of what Japanese pop-culture was sixty years ago, this is the perfect place for you.
During our trip in Kyoto, we decided to try the local Hanbey. The outside of the shop sets the tone: on the wooden facade, a set of vintage movie posters stand out in bold, wooden frames. The Izakaya (a type of Japanese pub) actually merges so well with its surroundings that you may not even notice it if it wasn't for these frames!
To enter the Izakaya, you will need to slide the main door and walk through a lobby full of vintage goodies that will make you forget you are in the 21st century. If you know a little about Japanese manga culture, you'll be delighted to see a mural full of Astro Boy and retro Manga action figures, masks, plushies, toys and posters. You'll walk past robots, trains and even a small black and white television playing old-school anime. The bar's floor and walls are entirely made of dark wood and are covered in ads and posters. The atmosphere is unique and you can feel yourself sliding into a colorful and animated time bubble.
Once you are seated, you can check out the menu and order one of the numerous drinks available in the house. Unfortunately, there is no English menu, but you can always ask the waiter for some help or simply order a beer (which you should pronounce bii-ru) or Nihonshu, a type of Sake that is served in a very traditional way which can be interesting to check out. Did you know that Nihonshu used to be intentionally poured until the alcohol overflew on the table as a symbol of generosity from the house? Today, as an echo to this tradition, the glass is first put into a bowl so the drink can easily overflow without touching the table and avoid any uncomfortable spilling. You will notice, when you receive your drink, that the bowl in which it is served contains some alcohol!
You may also try to ask the waiter if the Nomihoudai option is available, as certain nights the establishment offers all-you-can-drink formulas for a few hours, that can be as cheap as 1000¥.
The great thing about Hanbey is that, besides its excellent drinks, you can also order a wide range of side dishes. As an Izakaya's main purpose is drinking, you will only find small sides served piece by piece such as Yakitori. However, there are so many options available that you can easily fill your stomach by ordering random pieces. I recommend you try their Yakitori and Tempura... and maybe even some grasshoppers if you feel adventurous! They actually taste sweet as they have been worked with a special topping. There is also unlimited cabbage you can dip into two different sauces, and girls can get free ice-cream.
I'd say that Hanbey was my best bar experience so far. I love the unique retro feeling and appreciate the quality of their drinks and food. Their prices are quite affordable, so it's the best place to go if you want to have an enjoyable night with your friends before heading out for a night of Karaoke.
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