What are Standing Bars? (Tokyo Tachinomi)
Updated: Mar 2
Standing Bars: What are they and which ones are our favorites?
Husky once said: Japan, and especially Tokyo, is one of the busiest places on Earth. Convenience and efficiency in all aspects of life, is a way to keep your head above water.
(Check out our article about the history of Japanese vending machines to find out why ;)
And yes, I fully agree with his sentiment. Tokyo is a remarkably busy place. Living in this city, almost makes us lose our mind at times. In fact, the character used for writing the word «busy» in Japanese (忙しい - isogashi), loosely translates to «lose our mind».
The Standing Bars Phenomenon in a Nutshell
There are many oases in Tokyo for people on the brink of losing their minds. Standing bars, or «tachinomiya», are a popular option among the locals. These tiny bars are usually lively, down to earth, and very affordable.
One might wonder though, how these tiny standing bars came to be in the first place? Time is not the only precious commodity in Tokyo. Also, space is of short supply, which is why the land prizes in Tokyo are exceedingly high
The standing bars concept is simple. It is all about running a bar or restaurant in the tiniest location possible. In order to save space, customers must enjoy their drinks and foods standing up. Sky-high rental costs are kept low. In return, standing bars offers cheap entertainment for their guests.
The city simply does not have room for all of its shops and restaurants. Tokyoites spend their time exceptionally effective, just like the city around them makes use of its space in the most effective ways imaginable.
The Upsides of Tokyo Standing Bars aka. Tachinomi
It might not sound so enjoyable to drink and eat standing up, but it’s definitely a part of the real Tokyo experience, and it comes with certain benefits. Just think about it! If you can stand while enjoying your drinks at the pub, you will only take up half the space you would in a sofa.
So, what is the benefit of that? More pubs! Lower prices! Forced close encounters with real Tokyoites! The «standing bar»-concept lets more pub owners overcome the steep rental fees, it gives you more establishments to explore, and best of all, sacrificing space results in cheaper beer and food.
What’s not to like? We recommend anyone to try Tokyo’s standing bars, or tachinomi (立ち飲み) as they are called by the locals. Where to find them you say? Everywhere!
Chances are, you never even noticed the tiny standing sushi bar, or the standing highball oden-izakaya on the corner. Anywhere from department stores to major train stations or tiny back alleys house standing bars. If you're looking for cheap eats and real experiences, keep your eyes up for Tokyo's standing bars, like these favorites of ours:
Three Tokyo Standing Bar Recommendations
Like any other category of restaurants, also standing bars are abundant in Tokyo. You will find anything from run-down, smoke-filled joints, to snobby cocktail bars. Some are pretty terrible, most are rather good, and a selected few stand out as must-try experiences. The following standing pubs are three of our hottest tips:
1. Kabura-ya (かぶら屋)
Yakitori, or grilled chicken skewers, is one of Japans most famous dishes. Kabura-ya does the same thing with pork skewers, which is called «Yakiton».
Usually, these «yaki-pubs» use curious animal parts in their cooking (quite normal parts for Japanese people of course). For instance, at Kabura-ya, you will find cheek, diaphragm, intestine, tongue, and other inner organs on the menu. And, the prize per skewer is only 100 yen ($1).
The meat is doused in sweet soy sauce, and the tender, bite-size pork treats are best friends with beer or «sour». Sour is a Japanese version of «hard seltzer». It is made of Shochu (the Japanese equivalent to vodka), tonic water and fruit juice. Together with fatty pork snacks, the refreshing sour flavor is a match made in heaven.
You can also get grilled vegetable skewers or deep-fried vegetable sticks for 80 yen at Kabura-ya. Just grab a beer mug in your one hand and a skewer in the other, and you will be dining like a Japanese salaryman in no time!
Husky also likes to munch on «oden» when kicking back at his favorite watering holes in the weekend. Oden is a kind of slow-cooked stew, and his favorite dish at Kabura-ya is called «kuro-oden» (black oden).
2. Highball Sakaba (ハイボール酒場)
Highball bars are common in Japan. The low priced drinks go hand in hand with the standing bar-concept. At Highball Sakaba you can enjoy cheap drinks while watching the chef preparing delicious takoyaki right in front of you.
Highball is whiskey and soda water, while takoyaki are small dough balls with octopus bits in them. But don’t worry; the flavor is just as sweet as the takoyaki's kawaii appearance. It tastes like a savory pancake, topped with delicious BBQ sauce and bonito flakes.
Onigunsô recommends «lemon sour» to go with your takoyaki. This variant of sour drinks comes with a whole diced-up lemon in your glass. Charge up on vitamin C and keep the party going! Bring your glass to the counter and get a refill for only 300 yen.
Standing pubs like this often get quite noisy, but at Highball Sakaba you can easily lower your shoulders as you get caught up in the hypnotizing dance of bonito flakes on piping hot octopus balls.
3. Uogashi Nihonichi (魚がし日本一)
Do you find it hard to reserve tables at fancy sushi restaurants in Ginza? Don’t give up, your can still experience, delicious, authentic Japanese sushi. You can get it right here, at this standing sushi bar.
At Uogashi Nihonichi you don’t need to make reservation. Instead, you can drop by anytime and enjoy handmade sushi on the spot by a true sushi master. And best of all, since this is a standing bar, the price for grade-a sushi is very low.
To make sushi more affordable, many modern establishments have become fully automated, with robots preparing the food. It is fun to experience, and the sushi quality is high, but it lacks the authentic atmosphere of the standing sushi bars.
Even if you struggle with raw fish, you will have a unique experience at this place. On the menu you can also find some non-fish options, like avocado, pickled vegetables, or omelet.
One thing to notice about Uogashi Nihonichi is that the price on the menu is for one sushi piece. If you order one piece, however, they will serve you a plate with two pieces. This means that you must always double the price on the menu, and also carefully consider the best use of space … in your stomach ;p
Tokyo Tachinomi Takeaway
Yes, many standing bars offer take away, but the takeaway from this blog post is that tachinomi is a part of daily life in Tokyo. Unless you really need to chill in a deep sofa, why not save some cash at one of the countless Tokyo standing bars.
Not only will you find a wide selection, both in terms of food and style, the standard is usually rather good. You can even find some fancy (and pricey) standing pubs if you want, and the ambiance will still be very «Tokyo authentic».
If you are looking for a more classy standing bar, we can recommend «Ore no …». This is a famous Japanese chain of standing pubs where each branch offers different food and atmosphere.
Some Ore no … serves high class Japanese food. Others serve Italian, French or other international cuisines. There is even one Ore no … jazz club with live shows. We like the French one located in Ginza: Ore no Frenchi.
No matter where you chose to go, standing bars are great reminders for those who tend to get caught and chewed up by the Tokyo nightlife. Unless you are comfortable getting dead drunk at a restaurant, you will notice your inebriation before its too late. Then, you can return home in time to stop the dreaded Tokyo hangovers, which is also a part of the Tokyo experience, but that is a story for another time.
So, try an authentic piece of Japanese drinking culture and go for a tachinomikai! (Nomikai = Drinking party)