Mark Guthrie checks out the amazing All You Can Drink deal at imri in Sakae
Aside from the eating of raw fish, the movies of Akira Kurosawa and Ichiro’s right arm, perhaps Japan’s greatest gift to the world is ‘nomihoudai’. In some countries, giving customers carte blanche to knock back as many drinks as they can would be potentially bankrupting, but in Japan the all-you-can-drink custom is very much embraced as an industry standard.
However, while nomihoudai is indeed a wonderful thing, that’s not to say that it’s without flaws. Often there is a table charge, beer isn’t included in the menu, the spirits are little more than flavoured turpentine, and, most infuriating of all, the advertised ‘two hours nomihoudai’ in fact has last orders after ninety minutes. It seems that there’s always a catch.
One place at which there is no catch is at Nagoya’s best kept secret, Bar Imri. Open from 6pm to 11pm on Tuesdays to Thursdays, Bar Imri is a weekday nomihoudai bar in Sakae, and part of Nagoya’s famed nightclub Emporium. For just ¥2,000 for men and ¥1,000 for woman, patrons can enjoy non-stop all-you-can drink in plush, palatial surroundings.
“The idea is to provide an upmarket night that won’t blow a hole in your pocket,” says Suku, Bar Imri’s owner and Nagoya mainstay of almost thirty years. “And to do so, we don’t want to sacrifice quality, we just want to get people inside and have a great night.”
Suku isn’t joking about the quality. When me and my mates turned up and our waitress, the lovely Haruka, handed us the menu, we had to call her back. There must have been some mistake. Surely this wasn’t the nomihoudai menu. With a huge array of cocktails, draft beer, an extensive shots list and sparkling wines, this was top shelf stuff. But there was no mistake.
“On the weekends we generally cater for wedding parties and events, and of course those customers want a certain level of quality,” explains Suku. “And the way I see it, why would we treat our weekday customers any different?”
It is easy to understand why Bar Imri is a popular choice for wedding parties. Coming from England, Suku’s background was in the upmarket London nightclub scene, and he has brought that aesthetic to Bar Imri and Emporium. The décor, a creation of the artist who designed the iconic logo for legendary nightclub Ministry of Sound, is sumptuous, with Grecian pillars, theatrical installations and deep comfortable sofas, but at the same time it manages to stay warm and welcoming.
As such, it is ideal for all manner of purposes, be that hanging out with friends after a long day at work, a first date that looks fancy but is welcoming to the budget, or as a location for meet-up events. It is especially suitable for weekday parting with friends, and if you want to hold an event, all you need to do is call up and make a booking for no extra charge.
“You want a party? That’s great with us! You want karaoke? Let’s do it! You want a DJ? Most of our staff are resident DJs so that should be no problem,” says Suku. “We’re all about cultivating the right atmosphere, creating great nights, and we’ll do anything in our power to achieve that.”
Perhaps the best purpose is as a precursor to a night out in the Emporium nightclub on the floor above. One of Nagoya’s best-known nightspots, Emporium is in its twentieth year, and banging out global dance music into the small hours, it is very much a nightclub in the London style. Fortunately for patrons of Bar Imri, they can carry on their nomihoudai night in Emporium with just an additional ¥1,000 for men and ¥500 for women, which is a pretty impressive deal for a cracking night.
But before heading up to the club, it’s a good idea to line your stomach, and luckily Bar Imri do a great line in bar food. We went for the chilli nachos, which were lavishly topped and surprised me by actually being spicy, and the fish and chips, which really excited my kiwi mate. But by far the best was the keema curry, recommended to me by Matt from London, a Bar Imri regular who said that it was just like the curry his Indian grandmother made. All I can say is that Matt’s granny must make some bloody good keema, because this was fantastic.
Which seems par for the course at Bar Imri, a weekday nomihoudai bar where nothing lets you down.
“There’s no catch,” said Suku as he left us to enjoy our night. “I challenge you or anyone else to find one. Stay here all night and try! You won’t find one.” And stay we did, but everything was great. So, I guess that it’s over to you, dear reader.