I’m not a time travel expert, but I think if it existed today, it would be extremely expensive. While I’m sure there would be an article or two on the site dedicated to Hard-Off inspired time machine assembly, I’m here to tell you that there exists another cheap alternative to time travel with way fewer plot holes–a trip to the Showa-era izakaya chain, Hanbey.
As soon as you open Hanbey’s sliding door, you’re transported to a hidden world where retro advertisement posters litter the walls, old toys fill the shelves, and dated music blasts through the speakers. Oh, and Astro Boy watches you eat… if you’re lucky.
There are 17 Hanbey locations in Tokyo, including obvious places like Shibuya, Shinjuku and Ebisu, as well as some lesser-known areas like Tachikawa and Hachioji. While the atmosphere is unique and engaging, what really rounds out the Hanbey experience are the cheap prices. At this particular second-floor Tachikawa location, my first glimpse of the prices were on the actual steps leading up to the izakaya. It was a cheapo breadcrumb trail designed to lure me to the inevitable, alcohol-infused climax.
Drinks range from standard izakaya fare like highballs (190yen~), wines (200-390yen) and happoshu (発泡酒), or low-malted beers (290yen), to the more unique, like a chocolate banana cocktail (390yen), chu-hi with a fruit powder packet on the side (230yen), and even Coca-Cola served in the classic glass bottle (80yen). The food is diverse as well, including yakitori (50yen~), yakisoba (280yen), salads (120yen~), and various fried foods (90yen~). The menu is in Japanese, but the predominately college-aged staff should be able to help you out.
Speaking of the staff, right when you take your seat, you will receive a brief rundown on some free and not so free items. First, each customer receives a complimentary soup. The “soup” comes in a small cup and is gone before you know it. Second, women receive free ice cream. The ice cream is normally priced at 150yen, so it’s a nice little surprise. Finally, the cabbage placed on the table is all-you-can-eat. While that might not sound too appealing on its own, the sauce available is a rather tasty addition when drizzled over the top. Keep in mind – the cabbage comes with a customary seat charge of 380yen per person, whether you eat it or not.
I decided to try Hanbey’s monjyayaki. Monjyayaki is the Kanto version of okonomiyaki, a pancake-like dish with eggs, cabbage, and other various vegetables and meats. Here it’s affectionately known as Hanbeyaki (半兵ヱ焼き) (390 yen). It was a little messy, but surprisingly enjoyable.
After some food and drinks, I walked around to take another good look at the posters and various toys, which I think are worth the 380yen alone. The posters range from drama advertisements to ads for wine, cake and milk – some of which are unintentionally hilarious.
On the way out, the staff will hand you a small packet of rice crackers as omiyage, or a small souvenir. There are other snacks available for purchase at the door, along with some small knick-knacks like balloons, discs and masks. The cheapest thing I could find was gum for 10yen.
Overall, Hanbey is a great place to grab some cheap drinks, have a snack or two and soak up the interesting, retro atmosphere. Don’t let the 380yen seat charge deter you from an otherwise great trip back in time, courtesy of the Showa period.
Funabashi, Hachioji, Kashiwa, Kawasaki, Kichijoji, Koenji, Machida, Omiya, Sagamihara, Shibuya, Shimokitazawa, Shinjuku, Tachikawa, Takadanobaba, Tokorozawa, Tsudanuma, Ueno, Yokohama, Yokosuka.