I have a confession to make: I am a traitor to the supremacy of Hyogo-ken. I’ve been cheating on our Asian home with the next door neighbour. Yes, I am having a torrid affair with Osaka. Kobe’s nice and all, but Osaka just sizzles with energy and adventure; it’s the bad boy every twenty-something fools around with before settling down with comfortable, cultural Kobe. So if you’re missing that special someone to pass the long nights of summer with, let temptress Osaka steal you away for a night to remember, or perhaps not!
Where to begin?
You can find food to suit any palate in downtown Osaka, but my personal favourite to start the night off is Café Absinthe in Shinsaibashi. It serves up delicious Mediterranean-fusion cuisine to complement its impressive cocktail menu, including the green fairy herself for those who dare. Linger after dinner to enjoy some mellowing shisha (including the intriguing alternatives of wine or liquor instead of water). Have a chat with manager Dmitri who has the lowdown on the hotspots of the night. If you’re lucky you might even get an invite to club Red where, on occasion, Dmitri himself moonlights as a funky-house DJ till the early hours.
Appetite sated, you’re ready to dive into the myriad of bars littering the streets of Shinsaibashi and Namba.
For large parties, try Balabushka where there’s plenty of seating and free pool and darts for those with a competitive spirit. If you prefer your games more digital, then ALT-haunt Space Station is your place. This cosy bar is crammed with so many different gaming units you’re bound to rediscover a game you loved age 12 (or now, we won’t judge).
By now it’s around 11pm, the night is young and you’re itching for something a bit more local. Well, allow me to guide you to the Misono Building; a labyrinth of liquor dispensing themed bars. This place alone would make the most surreal and lethal pub-golf destination. An Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole kinda place, you will discover something new on each visit; Bar Nob is recommended for its friendly bar man who hand carves your ice cubes and remembers your song selection from the last visit. If you stumble into the rock and heavy metal bar, watch your head on the treacherously low-hanging light fittings on the dance floor!
For one last tipple before getting your dancing shoes on, head to Cinquecento, a big favourite with locals and visitors alike. Appropriately named, everything on the menu is 500円 and working your way through the extensive and creative martini menu will give you a stinking headache, empty wallet and a fantastic night with a lot of new friends.
You may be concerned that the infamous post-midnight dance ban will hinder your revelries, especially in Osaka, whose Mayor is said to be militant in his support of the ban. But fear not friends; downtown has either escaped his notice, or there are some shady deals going on. Whichever the reason, embrace the freedom to get your groove on at one of Osaka’s ubiquitous dancing dens…
Of course the best nights end somewhere new, exciting and previously unheard of, but for a failsafe party try one of these:
Club Pure: your go-to for nomihodae on weekends (Ladies 2500円, gents 3000円if memory serves). The name is most definitely ironic, but everyone’s up for a good time at Pure. On Saturdays the DJ plays mostly Top-40 music, each track for a maximum of 20 seconds. Be warned, those over 5ft8 will develop a neck-crick or a big lump on the head in the bathrooms.
Club Azure: a black hole which will suck you in and spit you out with hazy memories and sore feet. The music is a mix of RnB and hip-hop, break-dancers frequently pulling shapes in the midst of the rest of the dancing crowd who, naturally, are all facing the DJ. The dance floor has a bar at each end and a walkway around it so you can walk in circles all night, losing your original friends but making many more along the way. Having its lockers on ground level means less smoke will invade your overnight bag when you descend into the bowels of the club itself. The main draw is the price; at just 500円entry (with a free drink) for foreign nationals, Azure is the go-to for a cheap night.
Red: although fairly small, the aforementioned Red attracts a good crowd on Saturdays and the vibe is classier than a lot of Shinsaibashi establishments. Local hipsters rub well-clad shoulders with foreign students in-the-know.
Onzieme: more upmarket, Onzieme has music nights varying from hip-hop to techno and everything in between. There are often special guest international DJs, check their website for more details.
Rumour has it there is also an all night club by name of Heaven. My attempts to find this mysterious all-night party have failed thus far, overcome by tiredness. But what to do between club close/feet giving up and the train home? True, there are always the tables in McDonald’s or Royal Host, but I prefer somewhere with decidedly less fluorescent lighting and chip fat: the Capsule Hotel Asahiplaza.
For sleeping beauties
The capsule hotel is a symbol of modern Japan – a line I use on my parents to justify my capsule stays as cultural experiences. It’s true though, the capsule experience is very different to a hotel or hostel. So on your next night in Osaka, check in and finish your night in style at the Asahiplaza. (Be sure to grab yourself a stamp card; for every third visit you get a free drink or snack, and your twelfth stay is free!) Of course you can crawl straight into your space-age sleeping quarters, but why end the night so soon? Before sleep, not only can you luxuriate in the onsen-style bathroom, discussing the night with your pals as you wash the smoke from your hair, but also frolic in your matching PJs in the powder room where all your ablution needs are met. They even provide pre-toothpasted toothbrushes! Finishing the night at the Asahiplaza might just be my favourite part of going out in Osaka (I promise they aren’t paying me), and in comparison to a capsule I visited in Tokyo, this one is really very, very good. So go, just to tick it off that entry on your Japan bucket list and get the requisite photo in your capsule!
With thanks to my research assistants who graciously donated their livers (and occasionally dignity) in the name of this article.