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Oct 18, 2016

Solo in Osaka: Seeking a friendly face in Umeda's gaijin bars




If you can escape from the mob of massive train stations that make up the Osaka transport hub of Umeda (梅田), consider yourself to have been somewhat lucky. For the uninitiated, the booming chaos and the post-nuclear underground shopping world, are a nightmare to try and figure out. Team City-Cost rocked up in town one weekday morning and by the time we found an exit that might just about leave us in the vicinity of where we needed to be, we were ready to sack off any work and head for the nearest boozer.  


To clarify though, on this occasion Team City-Cost was but a solitary member, scuffing around the Umeda area under the loose guise of a ‘business trip’. ‘Business’ in Japan often ends with a session of drinking to give respite from the horrors of a meeting room. This occasion was no different in that regard. However, by the end of the day I (as I shall revert to from now) was alone. So, ever the servant to expat needs I head out to see what’s on offer for the solo drinker in this part of Osaka, looking for a tipple and a friendly face in Umeda's gaijin bars. To this end, I hope that what follows might offer a boost to those of us who fear walking into a bar, pub, or club on their own. Yes, I’m one of them. I wish I wasn’t, but there it is.  


The hotel is about a 10-min walk from Higashi-Umeda Station, in an area of love hotels, Filipino pubs, lamé dresses, and a sense of all-round frustration for this expat. Hitting up Google with something along the lines of ‘gaijin bars umeda’, The Blarney Stone looks to be the closest place. It’s just west of the busy road (423) that seems to mark the end of this love hotel zone.  




(The Blarney Stone)



It’s around 8pm (on a Wednesday evening). The Blarney Stone is on the 6F so no chance to have a gawp through windows to asses the situation. At this time, they’re serving a handful of people, mostly from overseas. There’s a group playing pool at a table one end of the bar. In the space at the other end is a small band stage, and it looks like a couple of locals are taking French lessons at a table nearby. I take a stool at the bar, and immediately go to the iPhone for something to do with my hands. My 700 yen Heineken (pint) is served by a pretty Japanese lady. You always assume that English is spoken in these places, but I bring out the Japanese anyway. There are some copies of Kansai Scene to leaf through.  


I like the mood of the place; music at a good volume, sport on the TV and a decor of rich woods, and musty felts make it feel suitably British Isles. The staff (two of them) are friendly and I’m tempted to stay on for another.  


Looks like it’s all-night happy hour on Mondays at The Blarney Stone, and on Ladies Night (Thursdays) all cocktails are 400 yen. There are burgers, fish & chips, paninis and pizzas on the menu.


Next up, the Internet is telling me to head for Captain Kangaroo in the Kitashinchi (北新地) area just south of Umeda’s train station megaplex.  


If those on a tight budget head to Higashi-Umeda for their wanton thrills, it looks like Kitashinchi serves a more high-rolling crew. The narrow streets host a confused mix of cool bars, fancy places to eat, and those establishments where guys pay absurd amounts of cash in order to have ladies listen to their, err, prose and pour them drinks. It’s social interaction turned cold capitalism on the most cynical of levels. Still, the latter makes for some good people watching; ladies preen and pose outside of their ‘clubs’, whilst besuited old-timers, who look like they should be at home in a warm pair of slippers, slip between club and taxi, taxi and club.  




(White Bear)



On route to Captain Kangaroo, I pass by the open-fronted White Bear (bar). There are tables facing street side, and couple of foreign gents having a drink. I pop in and get seated on a wobbly white stool at the bar. There’s a couple of local lads pouring over the football on the bar’s main flat screen, and a big model of Spider-Man crouching in one of the corners. From the bar I can get a good ogle of the street traffic. Ordering a Corona (700 yen) I try to recognise the house track playing on the sound system. Eventually, a salaryman type joins me and has a bash at some English. I enjoy the interaction, especially since the staff here look psychotically bored.  


Draught beers (Guinness, Heineken, Kirin) and bottles (Carlsberg, Lowenbrau, Budweiser etc) are 600 - 700 yen at White Bear. Shots for 600 yen, and cocktails 800 - 1,000 yen.


For the nervous solo drinker, White Bear has the distinct sales point of being open fronted, so you can have good look at what’s going on inside (without having to make suspicious multiple walkbys).  




(Captain Kangaroo)



The Internet tells me lots of good things about Captain Kangaroo, just down the road from White Bear (before you get to the Starbucks). From the outside it looks like a tight space, but it’s got some ‘depth’. The time is probably around 10pm now and I’m pleased to see quite a few people in; a pretty healthy mix of locals and what I assume to be expats. The decor in Captain Kangaroo is delightfully mad. There’s a cool wall motif, old number plates hanging everywhere, strings lights, posters, postcards from (Japan) departed former patrons, every inch of space has something stuck to it or drawn on it. Football is playing on the TV.  


Captain Kangaroo stocks a decent collection of ‘world beers’ from 500 - 800 yen. I opt for a couple of Bintang. Cocktails go for 600 - 800 yen and I’ve read that the burgers here are something special.  


From the looks of the drinkers this Wednesday night, this place attracts maybe the over 30s crew.  


A few beers in now, I slip outside to loiter around Kitashinchi for a bit, telling myself that I’m looking for The Alex Bar (I can’t find it, and I now know that it’s closed) but really I’m just imagining myself with the guts (and the money) to have a go at getting into one these ‘clubs’ with all the women out front. I opt to take a look at SAM & DAVE instead, which claims to be a staple of the ‘gaijin bar’ scene in Umeda and I find it just off the Eastern edge of Kitashinchi. The building has big, street side windows revealing most of what’s going on inside. This evening it’s 1,000 yen to get in (with a drink, and an access stamp). It’s after 11pm and there are a few people in, although no way near enough to fill the place out.  




(SAM & DAVE)



SAM & DAVE blurs the boundaries between a bar and club. It’s all shiny surfaces and clean lines, and there’s a DJ in residence (replete with an MC who sounds like he’s from the UK) playing some form of house. A couple of jaw-dropping Japanese girls are at a counter nearby, in outfits that raise the pulse. Turns out they’re dancers at the club/bar and are just having a break between sets. Being the stunted conversationalist that I am, I take a table and, rather sadly, start jotting down a few notes for this post.  


There’s a younger crew here, largely foreigners (although there are a couple of older Japanese suits who look like they’ve brought along a couple of the ‘professionals’ from Kitashinchi). I’m sort of taken back to my university days; me and my other socially useless mates loitering in corners telling ourselves there’s still plenty of time to make some ‘moves’ (Let’s just have another beer first, eh?!). Still, I’m pleased that there’s at least a few people here drinking and dancing, even on a school night, midweek.  


I seem to remember paying around 700 yen for my beers (more Coronas and Heineken). No prices are listed on the website (which also says entry is free Mon - Thurs). If it’s any sign as to what SAM & DAVE might be like when in full swing, their image gallery features lots of young female locals pointing their bums towards the camera lens. Make of that what will.   


Anyway, the staff at SAM & DAVE are friendly, everyone looks to be having a good time, and I leave thinking this would be a good place to go back to, perhaps on weekend when there’s likely more chance to put my dapper wit into practice.  


It’s about a 10-min walk back the hotel in Higashi-Umeda. The lamé dresses and high heels must have been swapped for pajamas and socks as there are few people to be seen at 1am on a Thursday morning, even in this part of town.



If you’ve got an recommendations for the solo expat drinker in Umeda, Osaka, we want to hear from you. Leave us your  'gaijin bar umeda' suggestions below. Cheers!



For ideas on solo drinking in Kyoto, how about this earlier blog post ...

A Night Out For Newbies And Introverts On Kyoto’s Kiyamachi




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