Enjoy student prices—and student uniforms—at this tachinomiya


Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on May 2009

Oendan_exteriorEven in an area of Tokyo known for its quirkiness, Oendan manages to stand out. The enormous front windows of this Takadanobaba bar frame a curtain of brightly colored plastic tennis balls, making it look like a retro arcade from the outside. The inside, on the other hand, looks more like a pack-rat’s idea of a party—which, for the record, makes us feel right at home.

Nearly every square inch of the walls is covered with movie posters (both Japanese and foreign) dating from the ’60s onwards, and record covers and photos plaster the ceiling. Sections of chain-link fencing separate the tables, while rows of subway car straps dangle overhead. Our attempts to find some unifying theme amid the frenzied décor proved futile. Minds sufficiently boggled, we turned to the friendly manager for help.

“Well,” he shrugged, smiling, “I just tried to gather a bunch of stuff that people who grew up in the ’80s would like.” Naruhodo.

Oendan calls itself a “school-themed” standing bar, and takes its name from the word for those crews of black-coated “cheer squads” (as opposed to cheerleaders) that you see at Japanese high school sporting events. But we found ourselves wondering, amid the sea of posters and records, where exactly the whole school idea fit in.

The answer quickly became apparent when a smiling server bounced over to take our order. All of the wait staff at Oendan, both male and female, wear school uniforms. And while we can’t say if this applies to every server, our waitress certainly took her teenage persona seriously. When our friend tried to ask for advice on the shochu selection, she shook her head and replied: “I’m still underage, so I don’t drink. I’ll have to go ask the bartender.” We’re still not sure if that was just an act.

In keeping with the theme, and Oendan’s location in the student haven of Baba, a night here is definitely easy on the wallet. The bulk of the drink menu—including cocktails, sours, nihonshu and the house wine—sits within the ¥400-¥500 range. We eased into the festivities with that old standby, nama beer (¥450), while our friend took the bartender’s recommendation of a goma-shochu (¥500).
Oendan also offers lots of down-to-earth food options to balance out all that alcohol. Our stomachs were rumbling, so we splurged on some kara-age (¥500), meat-stuffed renkon (¥450), fried camembert cheese (¥350) and French fries (¥300)—which turned out not to be so much of a splurge, after all.

As we walked out the door, at the end of the evening, the manager handed us his business card, grinning and making us promise to come back again. Once we’d heard about the daily ¥300 happy hour from 4-6:30pm, it wasn’t a difficult decision to make. Oendan