Just Another Night in the Whiskey Bars of Osaka - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Just Another Night in the Whiskey Bars of Osaka

By Eugene S. Robinson


Because any idiot can read a Fodor’s guide. 

The journey toward the next whiskey bar starts backstage at my band Oxbow’s show in Himeji, south of Osaka. On our first tour of Japan, it was a marked departure from Tokyo’s much more mellow audiences. “The south is different,” said tour manager and record label owner Chikako Sagawa. “There are lots of farms here and these are farm kids. And they drink …” Which in literary terms we call “foreshadowing,” since no sooner had we started playing were we set upon by 10 hell-raising drunks. Thirty seconds later, a melee concluded with one of the drunks unconscious, the other nine chastened and the band freed to rip our way through the remainder of our set.

Postshow, however, we were urged to beat it out of Dodge, presumably one step ahead of the authorities, and we hit the next-nearest city: Osaka. Hungry, dirty (and, in my case, shirtless) and in need of drink, we found Osaka, an epicure’s delight, the perfect place to be. If you like to eat and drink, Osaka has been accused of encouraging you to do both well, and sometimes to excess. It was perfect, in fact, since it shot us far beyond whatever the tour guides might have tried to sell us — that the city’s hotspot is in the south of Chuo-ku and any nightlife worth living happens in Namba.

Osaka, with all of the electricity of Tokyo but more a Marseille to France’s Paris, was the fire and the frying pan.

Namba is cool, but sometimes cool is just not enough. We were still hot and in search of hot. And Osaka, with all of the electricity of Tokyo but more a Marseille to France’s Paris, was the fire and the frying pan. Japan’s third-largest city, with about 19 million folks packed into the neon-lit streets, is known as the nation’s kitchen. As we pounded through the streets, it smelled every inch of kitchen, but before we would eat, we’d drink. But what and in which direction? Cursory conversation with a local indicated north of Namba, in Kita, where Bar K would kick things off. 

If you’re unschooled? You don’t think of Japan and whiskey, but Suntory is one of the largest and longest-lived Japanese companies. Their specialty? Whiskey. And Bar K? A whiskey bar nonpareil. Starting at about 1,000 yen, or a little over $8 a glass, it’s a deal and a steal, even if they do make you put your shirt on first.

Then, properly lubricated, over to a famiresu, or a family restaurant. Gusto, being the name of the game. Cheap, open all night and home to the lubricated, Gusto has meals for $4 to $16, and said meals are crazy Japanese concatenations of Japanese-Italian, Japanese-American, Japanese-Indian and Japanese-Japanese. And it’s packed. Not likely to make any tour guide but still “the shit.”

“Never mind the bomb they just found,” said Tokyo bartender and magazine publisher Yu Kaneko about the unexploded ordnance the city’s inhabitants have largely managed to ignore. “Osaka is for the crazy.” Which is to say: perfect.

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