I’ve been living in Osaka for almost ten years, and I’ve been a fan of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure for even longer than that. Given its relative niche status in the United States, it’s easy to forget that JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure has been popular in Japan for decades. The manga is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary in 2017, which means the kids who first read it in Shonen Jump are now grown adults who may partake in the occasional alcoholic beverage.
Just as there are themed bars dedicated to video games or cosplay, there are bars in Japan run by and targeting fans of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. And after years of telling myself I should try to visit one, I went out for a night and visited all the ones I could find in the city of Osaka.
I live to the north of the city of Osaka, so my first stop was Bar Iggy on the northern edge of the Umeda area, near the dual towers of the Umeda Sky Building. Bar Iggy is anything but towering: it’s a modest wooden building on a street with plenty of other bars and restaurants that a person might wander into after a long day of work.
Only a sharp-eyed visitor (or a JoJo fan) would notice the doggie in the window with coffee-flavored chewing gum.
While Bar Iggy is named after a major character in the Stardust Crusaders arc of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, there’s not a lot inside the bar to highlight the JoJo angle to customers. A few toys are placed on shelves in the corners, but they’re hardly the focal point of the room.
There are no manga volumes on display, no posters on the walls, no rock music or anime theme songs playing on the stereo. To any random person off the street, Bar Iggy is just a quiet bar with a funny name.
Of course, I wasn’t a random person off the street. I sat down at the bar, glanced at the plain black and white list of beverages for a token moment, called the bartender over and said the magic words:
“Please give me the secret menu.”
He laughed, turned around and gave me an entirely different menu from behind the counter. It was in full color set against a background of purple diamonds and it had pages and pages of original cocktails named after characters and Stands from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.
Every drink had a full paragraph explaining who it was named for, hinting at what it might taste like and stating the percentage of alcohol content. Even the food had clever names; instead of a Caesar Salad there was a “CAESAAAAAAARR!! Salad.”
Being a fan of the recent anime adaptation and having very strong feelings about Rohan Kishibe’s Stand, I ordered a Heaven’s Door. It contained absinthe, which is the perfect ingredient for an artist-themed cocktail. It took a while to prepare, but the presentation was beautiful: Not only was it served in a glass bearing a sketch of Rohan, but the sugar around the rim of the glass was patterned into triangles just like…whatever it is that Rohan wears on his head.
Absinthe is not an easy liquid to drink, but the sugar helped. Bar Iggy isn’t the kind of place where you throw down one drink after another anyway, it’s a place where you relax and take it easy for a spell. The bartender and owner, Mr. Tanabe, told me that they’d been open for seven and a half years now, making Bar Iggy the longest standing JoJo bar in the city.
Seven years would also explain why the menu lacked anything connected to JoJoLion, the eighth and current arc of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure which began well after Bar Iggy was already open. Mr. Tanabe explained that once that story is over, the menu may be revised to include it. Then again, the menu was skewed heavily towards the older characters: Stone Ocean and Steel Ball Run had just one (Foo Fighters) and two (Johnny Joestar and Gyro Zeppeli) cocktails each.
“I should make one thing clear,” Tanabe said. “This is not a JoJo bar. Of course, I love JoJo, but the bar is for all kinds of manga fans.” It was hard to take his statement at face value given the elaborate nature of the secret menu (and the name of the bar), but as I would later learn, the other “JoJo bars” in Osaka were very different than Bar Iggy.
On that note I was off to my next stop, as I worried that an entire evening of Heaven’s Door would leave me unable to walk.
Even though Purple Haze was “only” a mile from Bar Iggy, I opted for a cab because that mile had me pass through some of the most crowded streets of all of Osaka, in downtown Umeda. Purple Haze is on the east edge of Umeda, a block away from a busy enclosed shopping street. It is, as so many bars in Japan are, nestled in a small building that is full of other bars.
But Purple Haze does its part to stand out in a crowded floor with a quote from Vento Aureo on the front door, in large type: “ARE YOU PREPARED?”
I laughed and took lots of pictures, but that was nothing compared to what was waiting behind the door once I entered: a life-sized model of Purple Haze!
Before I even glanced at a menu, Purple Haze was already exceeding my expectations of what to expect at a JoJo bar. It’s a small space with ten seats at the most, but every surface of that space is covered in JoJo figures, cutouts, manga, toys, and quotes. While much of the paraphernalia had been bought in stores, the Purple Haze mannequin was an original creation by the bartender/owner, Naoya.
While it lacked the slick look and feel of Bar Iggy, Purple Haze over-delivered in terms of sensory input. The music was a eclectic mix of songs from different genres all linked to JoJo by virtue of their names (or their artist’s names) being adopted into the series. The menu was dense with original creations, with each JoJo arc getting a dedicated page of drinks. Every cocktail had a star-ranking to indicate how strong it was, with Naoya later telling me that the boss characters all ended up with the most powerful drinks.
A trend I was already noticing at JoJo bars: None of these novelty menus ever explicitly lay out what makes up each drink, hence the need for a system to “explain” each one. I suppose it’s a matter of keeping the recipes private or else they’d be all over the internet, but it did make it harder to choose each time. Then again, with so many options available at Purple Haze, I don’t know how I could have chosen any faster.
Being already tipsy thanks to the absinthe, I wanted another heavy hitter, so I chose a strong-looking drink named for the “delicious” sound Josuke makes when he eats a local treat. It came in a Caesar Zeppeli shotglass and tasted like a White Russian, so it was indeed delicious (if tiny).
Since I had the place to myself, I asked Naoya why he named his bar, which turns three this month, after a character that plays such a small role in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. He told me that, as a lifelong manga reader, he was struck by the idea of a Stand that was so powerful the heroes were reluctant to use it. We ended up having a long talk about Stands and what made them interesting (or not) to us. It was precisely the kind of conversation I was there to have: a nerdy free-for-all.
When I ordered again, I decided it was time for a boss drink: Made in Heaven, ranked not with one or two stars but a solid line of stars. It was carbonated and came with a shot glass inside of the glass. Truly it was the fusion of two separate Stands, and it did not go down easy (but I liked it).
With one more bar on my list and two more drinks sloshing inside my system, I made an important visit to the restroom. The decor was perfect: word balloons on every wall, plus the Mona Lisa placed above the toilet. I thanked Naoya for his time and headed for the subway.
After two trips to two edges of Umeda, I took the subway to Namba and stood in the heart of downtown Osaka. Even on a weeknight, the Dotonbori area is packed, and Star Platinum is in a building almost adjacent to the big Don Quixote megastore on the canal. Of the three bars I went to that night, it was by far the largest with the most central location (having recently moved from a smaller space).
Given the busy location, I had made a point to reserve a seat that evening in advance, so when I opened the door, a bartender was waiting for me, posing and welcoming me by name. The bar was dark, with black walls and generally low lighting all around, which made the giant-sized mask (pictured atop this page, made by the staff themselves) all the more looming with its bright eyes.
The menu at Star Platinum was closer to Purple Haze than Bar Iggy: tons of drinks named for JoJo characters, though with even less-detailed descriptions of the ingredients. Each cocktail was graded from E to S, just like Stands are in the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure manga and anime: in power (alcohol percentage), speed (taste/drinkability), and size of glass.
Star Platinum was on the busy side, but the staff and the other customers tried to make me feel welcome. As I was a new face, they told me there would be a special toast for my first drink. The bartenders shouted Dio’s famous line from Phantom Blood about “rejecting humanity,” then all the customers shouted “WRYYYYY!”
Not backing down, I shouted “WRYYYYY!” as I took a drink from my King Crimson. It was indeed a heavy hitter.
I had been wearing my JoJoLion T-shirt under my hoodie all night, which got some attention at Bar Iggy and Purple Haze when I revealed it, but it really turned heads at Star Platinum. Given that the bar is named for one of the central Stands of the entire series, JoJoLion is a deep cut by comparison.
The most popular JoJo segment at the bar seemed to be Vento Aureo, with every woman seated at the bar telling me it was their favorite. The woman next to me even made fan art using colored sand so the bar could hang it up. They were all too happy to bring it to me for an up-close inspection.
The subject of a potential fifth animated series was a recurring conversation I had that night, much more so than any enthusiastic talk surrounding the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure live-action film in August. I think at this point the (hopefully) ongoing television anime has proved itself to be a worthy adaptation for fans, while the potential quality of a movie with actors is still very much an unknown.
Also a hot topic that day: Caesar Zeppeli. My visit to Star Platinum coincided with the third day of a three-day event commemorating Caesar’s final battle with Wamuu on February 27, 1939. In an incredible coincidence, I had just completed that chapter in the manga that day and had the bookmark in my copy in my bag to prove it. This led me to order a Wamuu cocktail next, although the staff acknowledged that it was actually Santana on the glass. It tasted like whiskey, possibly.
As the clock approached 11PM, I knew I had to start heading towards the subway if I was going to make it home that night. The staff gave me a most unusual point card: Rather than track your total purchases, it tracks which of the many JoJo cocktails you have ordered. The only way to fill the point card is to try every single drink on the menu. Those who do get a free, custom bottle of JoJo wine.
As I rode the train home that night, I felt very content with the choices I had made—and I don’t just mean in beverages. A long time ago, I used to go to Star Trek conventions. It was always an opportunity to meet like-minded fans and just gush over the one thing we all loved together. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure isn’t as old as Star Trek, but enough people have grown up with it and come to love it that there’s a Trek-like devotion to it out there, particularly in Japan.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is a series that invites discussion, arguments, and wild theorizing. I have a lot of internet friends who love JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, but I don’t get to sit down and talk with internet friends very often. We get to share jokes and memes, but we don’t have a face-to-face talk about what makes JoJo so great. Hanging out in person in spaces that celebrate both fandom and fans is a terrific feeling, and it’s one I wish to experience again.