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Taking a Stand at Tachinomi
November 26, 2018
Perhaps you’re out passing through a lively part of a Japanese city and you notice a bar where guests are standing around eating and drinking. If there is a distinct lack of seats, you’ve probably stumbled upon a “standing bar,” or “tachinomi” in Japanese (“tachi” means stand and “nomi” means drink).
Just like standing noodle or standing sushi shops, tachinomi are almost the fast-food equivalent of bars, where drinks can be ordered quickly and short visits are welcome. Tachinomi started off as simple affairs with limited food and drinks, yet as their popularity has grown, so too has the diversity of menus they feature.
If you’ve never been to a tachinomi before, walking right in can feel like crashing a party uninvited. Yet quite to the contrary, tachinomi are generally very warm and welcoming of the casual visitor. Linger outside long enough and the patrons might even beckon you in!
The following brief guide will help explain tachinomi for the uninitiated, and introduce the benefits of including one of these cozy watering holes on your itinerary.
There’s probably room for more
Even when a tachinomi might seem to already be at capacity, just like a commuter train in Tokyo at rush hour, it can probably squeeze in a few more souls. The absence of seating means that customers can and do shift around to facilitate others coming in and going out. Sometimes you’ll even see people spilling out into the street, and many tachinomi will set up tables improvised from beer bottle crates or other accessories to accommodate demand.
Following along with the above point, you’ll also need to be flexible to allow other customers or staff to pass by. Be aware of your surroundings and people that may be trying to move around you. Tables and countertops will typically be shared space, so propping your elbows on these surfaces would also be frowned upon.
Cover charges vary
You may already be aware that many bars and izakaya-style restaurants in Japan often have a nominal cover charge called “otoshi.” Typically, this comes in the form of a small appetizer that is automatically presented to you at the beginning of your meal, regardless of your order.
Likewise, some tachinomi also have a small otoshi while others do not. If it exists, you’ll probably notice right away, as, for example, one tachinomi I visited immediately passed me a small bowl of edamame (green soybeans) as their otoshi. When in doubt, just ask the staff or other customers.
Don’t forget to order
Dos and don’ts will vary according to the different tachinomi, but if there were to be one cardinal rule common to all, it would be to continue ordering as long as you are there. Given the cramped conditions at most places, space is a premium and your presence there takes up a valuable spot for paying customers. Generally speaking, you can stay as long as you like, but if you are no longer ordering food or drinks, it’s best to head out and make way for others.
What to order
Basic tachinomi will typically offer the standard beverage lineup for Japan, including draft beer, sake, shochu, and sours (flavored drinks with a shochu base). In addition to those beverages, you may find wine, highballs, cocktails, and other specialty drinks, especially at some of the newer and trendier tachinomi. Don’t drink alcohol? Don’t let that preclude your patronage as there are usually soft drinks such as tea or soda available as well.
Much like their full-fledged izakaya cousins, tachinomi serve small portions of food to go with their drinks, kind of like a tapas bar in the West. Their small kitchens limit the kinds of dishes that can be prepared, but tachinomi do wonders in that tiny space and serve up some tasty items like yakitori, oden, and kushikatsu, in addition to the classic bar snack of edamame. Another establishment I visited had Japanese home-cooking style items such as boiled squash, cooked fish, and a nikomi stew, while fancier (and pricier) places may even feature yakiniku or sushi.
Ordering (and lending a helping hand)
How you order may also vary with the particular tachinomi. Some require you to pay upfront as you go, while others will keep a tally, much like a regular izakaya. Another common practice is to put the amount of money you’d like to spend in a small bowl near you, and the staff will take out the amount for each order and deposit change if necessary.
Tachinomi may be so cramped that staff cannot move around to attend to customers. This means you’ll either go up to the counter or shout out your order, using finger gestures to indicate quantity. Similarly, if the staff cannot directly deliver your order, they may pass it to the closest customers, who then take turns passing it down to you. At some point you may even find yourself caught up in the middle of such a relay chain, so be prepared to lend a hand.
Tachinomi are great if you’re on a budget
Eating out and drinking in Japan’s larger cities can be expensive, but tachinomi are a wonderful way to save some yen while still having a great time. They were designed to be affordable, with drinks averaging around 300-400 yen. Have a drink or two with a small side dish and the bill may only be around 1,000 yen, which, in tachinomi lingo, is referred to as sen-bero, or getting tipsy for just sen (1,000) yen.
You’ll find tachinomi all around Japan, while some of the most well-known places in Tokyo to find these quirky little bars include Shinbashi, Shinjuku’s Omoide Yokocho, and Akabane. Whether you’re a solo visitor or out with friends, a standing bar (or two) just may become the highlight of your night out, thanks to good food and drink at affordable prices, combined with a chance to literally rub elbows with the locals.
Text and Photos: Noam Katz
Touch Know Me (Main Branch)
4-18-4 Shinbashi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-0004
Touch Know Me (Matsuri Branch)
3-21-2 Shinbashi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-0004
Tachinomi Shinbashi Heso (Shinbashi Karasumori Exit Branch)
Shinmarubun Building 1F
3-22-3 Shinbashi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-0004
Shinbashi Ekimae Building No. 2 Annex B1F
2-21-1 Shinbashi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-0004
Phone: Not disclosed