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A Slice of Britain in Japan: The HUB British Pub
"The Hub" is a British-themed restaurant and bar, many of which are springing up all over the bigger cities of Japan. As an exchange student from the UK living in Tokyo for a year, the Hub caught my eye almost immediately, and we just had to try it.
In Tokyo alone, there are at least twenty-five Hubs, most of them near subway stations, on high streets, and other convenient locations. We visited the one in Ueno, a district full of restaurants, Pachinko casinos and game arcades. The Hub offers food as well as drink, so it seemed like a great place to go for dinner and a drink with our friends.
The inside of the bar was spacious, and they had really captured the best parts of a British pub. The walls and furniture were wooden and brass, with a large bar displaying all kinds of beers, whiskies, liquors and ales. On the walls were posters of things like the British countryside, trains, and famous English slogans such as "Keep Calm and Carry On".
The bar seemed to be quite popular; even as early as 6:30pm there were many people, foreign and Japanese, there drinking, eating and hanging out. The menu was available in English and the staff even spoke English, which is quite rare, even in the capital city of Tokyo, and useful if you're a tourist who doesn't speak much, if any, Japanese. There were a lot of 'foreigners' (i.e. non-Japanese people) there too, so it was a good place to meet other tourists, and to go with people from your hostel, or fellow students.
Many places in Japan don't have 'No Smoking' sections in cafes and restaurants, but the Hub had a front room and a back room, the latter of which was the smoking section. This was useful as many non-smokers, particularly from countries like the UK where many public places are smoke-free, enjoy their visit a lot more if they can relax in a non-smoking section. However, in many Hubs, you have to pass through the back room (the smoking section) to access the toilets.
One really cool thing about the Hub is that on the menu was a famous slogan, "You'll never walk alone", which is the motto for the English football (soccer) team, Liverpool. It was an extra cultural shout out that put a smile on my face.
The food was surprisingly cheap - the fish and chips were less than 500 yen ($5 US dollars), and they were available in large or small. The meals were served on newspaper in baskets, the fish was delicious, the chips were chunky, and the dish was served with a small pot of ketchup and a small pot of mayonnaise. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal - at that price, I hadn't expected much, but ended up being pleasantly surprised. The fish was seasoned with salt and pepper, and was light, crispy and went very well with the dip.
Other dishes which looked great (but I didn't try) included roast beef, jacket potatoes and spaghetti sticks.
There was a large selection of drinks, including cocktails and mocktails, and beers, whiskies and liquors from all over the world. One thing to remember is that in Japan, whisky isn't taxed as much as in the UK, so whiskies and spirits were a lot cheaper in the Hub than a pint of beer.
Beers such as Guinness were available, as well as mixed drinks not otherwise readily available in Japan, such as rum and coke. The cocktails were slightly pricey, but no more expensive than other cocktail bars in Tokyo. The Hub apparently does have a 'Happy hour', but unfortunately we missed it. When paying full-price, the drinks are expensive, but doing a little research before you go might save you some money.
The menu including seasonal drinks, such as brandy and even eggnog near Christmas time.
Entertainment and Opening Hours
In the Hub, there are TV screens that show sports games, especially live such as football and cricket. When we went, there was a show about someone who was mountain biking in Scotland, which was extremely nostalgic for me, and made me forget for a moment that I was in Japan.
All the Hubs are slightly different, but typically open at around 5:00pm or 6:00pm, and close in the early hours of the morning.
Just like a pub in Britain, and unlike most places in Japan where you open a tab, you order your food and drink at the bar and pay for each individual order. This has been met with generally positive responses from visitors of the Hub; it's much easier to keep track of your money, and you pay for your own order instead of trying to work out what you spent from a big bill at the end.
The Hub bar is cash-only, which is another feature that echoes British pubs at home. Most Hubs are on busy streets and usually not too far from a convenience store where you can withdraw money - just make sure you have enough cash with you when visiting the Hub.
All in all, the Hub is an excellent place to go that's social, safe, entertaining and serves great food. I would suggest that you go for dinner, and perhaps for the first couple of drinks if you're on a budget, before moving on to somewhere cheaper such as a karaoke bar or a nomihōdai (all you can drink). You have to remember to take cash with you as the Hub doesn't accept credit or debit cards, but as Japan is a very cash-orientated country, it wasn't too much of a problem. I give "Hub: British Pub" four stars out of five.