Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Middle Eastern Night at No Name Bar...

Granted, No Name Bar International doesn't quite qualify as a bar name, and it's not particularly original. But the owner is a super nice guy originally from Turkey. He's the kind of bar owner who greets you personally, and he's been known to buy drinks for my friends and I at Ohgiya from time to time.

No Name Bar International is on the 3rd floor of a small building right across from the giant pachinko parlor on "Mall Street" in Hamamatsu. The pachinko parlor is impossible to miss, but you have to look for the bar. The sign is small, green, as nodescript as the name it bears. You go up the second worst elevator in Japan (the first is in Toyohashi, in the building on Hirokoji-dori that contains Shirokiya... do NOT ride in it. Take the steps... all 5 flights of them).

Inside, it's a small shoebox place, dimly lit, with an electronic darts game and for atmosphere, a wall covered with tons of photos of happy customers. It's not exactly a dive, the staff is incredibly friendly, it's cleaner than it appears at first glance.

And the beer is 500 yen a mug. That's what we call a bargain here in Nihon. There aren't many choices in Hamamatsu if you're a gaijin bar-lover. Right now, since the passing of Groovy Gravy (and the loss of its amazing cheesecake and slick hipsteresque decor), it's pretty much No Name and Down Under. If I was more of a bar-type person these days, I'd be holding forth at No Name on the weekends.

Except I already have Ohgiya for my clubhouse, come to think of it.

So, what can get the new, 2007 model me into a bar? The offer of freshly made, all-you-can-eat Middle Eastern food. And two drinks, all for 3000 yen.

My co-worker told me it was coming up. Two Israeli guys and the sister of one of them, plus the No Name owner do this from time to time, but I'd only attended once. They cook up a ton of food... by now I've forgotten the names of everything. Falaffel was included, I'm pretty sure, and it was all loaded with garlic and supremely delicious.

I got there around 7:30pm, and what few tables there were already had maximum occupancy, people eating from bowls, soups bubbling in small cauldrons over flickering candles, lively conversation and atmospheric music.

I ended up standing at the bar, but the upshot of not having a chair or a stool meant our hosts felt a little bit of extra responsibility for me, so I ended up having a table's worth of food, enough for two people or more, with a standing offer to load up at will.

Armed with that knowledge and being an old hand at scoring from having spent my formative years as a moocher crashing tailgate parties at the University of Georgia and making a complete pig of myself, I laid into the bread, had some ground beef stuff on thin triangles of what tasted like taco shells or pizza crust, munched a salad, burned my tongue on some ultra-spicy mashed potato looking stuff, drank two big mugs of beer and talked to a Nova student I knew back in my days at the eikaiwa.

He introduced me to his date as "a famous Nova teacher." Infamous is more like it. We talked about the Nova drug bust. That's been a topic of Voice Room conversation even here in Hamamatsu, just as I predicted.

After I'd eaten my fill (relatively speaking, because the food was so delicious I wish I were eating it still), I made my rounds. And by rounds, I mean I found some people I know and talked to them until I missed my #9 bus and had to take an expensive taxi ride back home.

If you visit Hamamatsu, ask around the gaijin community about Middle Eastern Night at No Name Bar. You might get lucky.

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