Heartland – more than just a gaijin bar in Roppongi

Heartland Beer BottlesIchiro: “So where are we meeting the boys tonight in Roppers?”
Kenta: “Not sure, but I think the plan is to meet up at Heartland for a few warm up beers and take it from there.”

~★~

Every gaijin who has been to Roppongi Hills has been to Heartland. Meeting someone at Heartland is the Roppongi equivalent of Alta Studio (アルタ前) in Shinjuku, Big Man in Umeda or Grand Central Station in New York – only better: Heartland has beer.

Besides being “the place to be” after work in Roppongi, the Heartland bar is well known for its signature beverage “Heartland Beer”. If you’ve have a swig before, then you’ll remember that the Heartland label is not your typical Japanese beer. Heartland Beer (brewed by Kirin) is made 100% from wheat giving it a very “Western” style favor without the softness that you usually get from the copious amounts of rice included in traditional Japanese labels like Ichibanshibori or Super Dry. Heartland’s recent success is not just about location – it’s seen to be a sign of the times as the Japanese are now more open minded to trying non-traditional flavors.

 bottle top

It might surprise you to know that Heartland isn’t actually a new beer at all. In fact it had made its name long before the Roppongi Hills project even existed. (Bean Knowledge: Japanese architecture buffs will know that Mr. Mori (of Mori building fame) spent over 30 years buying up enough land (地上げ) to build the mammoth project that Roppongi Hills is today. It took so long because – yes, just like that old lady who lives next to the “planned” new runway at Narita – there is always someone who refuses to sell!)

Beer with a MonogatariIt is a well kept secret that Heartland actually existed in the very same spot as it does today way back before Mori started his buying spree. In fact Heartland, was just as much a “symbol of the times” back then in the middle of the shagadelic bubble era as it is today. At the time it was a huge gamble for Kirin to release such a rough tasting Western style beer but it paid off quickly and Heartland turned into a roaring success. In fact the bar was such a hit that it turned into something of a cult (ハートランド教) and the 店長 (tencho, manager) was quickly promoted into the senior echelons of Kirin’s management team.

The old That tencho, was a young man called Mr. Maeda (前田仁). Budding black belts in beer trivia will recognize that name as the man who subsequently came up with the concept of Ichibanshibori (一番搾り). More recently he has been the brains behind both the Tanrei (淡麗) and Hyoketsu (氷結) series. Maeda clearly has the Midas Touch at Kirin Beeru. Maeda acknowledges that heartland was controversial at the time and even shows some emotion when he admits that finally, after over two decades, Japan has caught up with Heartland (「時代がハートランドに追いついた」). Not many companies can boast that their most charismatic MD was chosen for his prowess as a bar tender!

“Beerhall Heartland” as it was named (in true bubble style) at the time, became a hub for bohemian artists and musicians. Many famous musicians today are said to have built up their name by playing live for the regulars at Beerhall Heartland. Apparently Mr. Mori was such a fan of the old Heartland that he insisted on having Heartland once again a part of the newly born Roppongi Hills community. (It’s no coincidence that the architect of the new Heartland (小坂竜) was also a well known regular at the original).

Next time you are enjoying a cold one next to the escalator leading down to that cramped bar, spare a moment to reflect on what the place might have felt like twenty years ago. It’s nice to know that even in such a modern place like Roppongi Hills, there are still remnants of the character and innocence that Roppongi had back then.

23 thoughts on “Heartland – more than just a gaijin bar in Roppongi”

  1. Wow! I never realised there was so much to that green bottled brew..great info and an interesting read!

    And I thought the bar was just a pub full of chicks looking for high salaried foreigners.
    (as opposed to other bars in roppongi which are full of low salaried foreigners looking for….)

  2. Yes, heartland is my favored meeting point (and hunting ground?) in Roppongi too. It is something about the place that makes me keep going in (other than the beer that is!)

    Its just not as seedy as the other gaijin hangouts, and there are no African Americans trying to drag me to their titty bar in that area either (nothing against titty bars though hey)

    Nice you guys had a new story today. I was hanging out for a new one after the last. (Heck, I could write a story or two for you if you like!)

  3. I’m afraid to say I’ve never been to Heartland. I guess I fail as a gaijin. ;)
    Usually if I go to Pongi, I’d meet friends in front of Almond, and go where ever the group wants to go. Unfortunately, the majority of my friends who go to Roppongi are all monbushers studying at Toudai, thusly they have plenty more time and money to blow than I, which means the 1000 yen drink places. Bleh. You can only take so much Gaspanic, 9/11, and other places before just getting tired of the stereotype.

    I’d rather just go dancing if it wasn’t for the fact that Velfarre is over priced and closes at 1 AM (what’s that about) and Vanilla is too crowded at times, and the fact that I about tripped and broke my neck in the black pit that is Space Lab Yellow.

    I’m actually a fan of Rock Factory, but only because one of my favorite bands plays there all the time (Invago, formerly known as Vago).

    I am now intrigued by this Heartland, and will endeavour to make up my failing as a gaijin by going as soon as I can. (which looks like it won’t be anytime soon)

  4. Rob you sad prick…in a crowded room with a few beers under your belt youll be fine…most foreigners are here alone anyway

  5. Diagonially opposite from Almond is a bar, “Geronimo” which has real long happy hour, 6-9pm. If you are arriving at the pong early and don’t feel like heading to heartland, I’d suggest this place. Very chilled and relaxed, and at happy time price, VB’s are 400yen.

    Heartland is…crap. I’m sorry to all those investment bankers out there, but the place is just as dodgy as any place in the pong. Sure, a bit of eye candy maybe, but how much time do you really have for the hako-iri, engrish speaking, money hungry slappers?

    On the heartland beer, not a bad drop, and for 500yen a bottle, at least its reasonable.

    FYI – A second “heartland” bar called “PCM” (1F of Tokia building, across the road from Tokyo Forum) has been operating in Marunouchi for a while, which has a bit more of a chilled atmosphere compared to Heartland in Roppers. There is still some eye candy (lacking in quantity but not in quality) and the fact that there are tables and chairs outside makes it a great place to have a beer after work.

  6. I never had any idea that the litres of the green Heartland beer that I was downing all these years was:
    1. Made by Kirin or 2. Japanese at all

    I had just never given it any thought at all actually, apart from the fact that it does tend to make the fushigi-chan’s that hang out at Heartland a little bit better looking. The price tag also makes it easier to get the ladies plonked when you are on a budget, which must be a good thing, as applying the green beer goggles to them also, certainly must increase my chances.

    Nice article, great insight into the central part of the first hours of my nights in Roppers.

  7. Thanks for your feedback guys.

    Robert, please let us know what you think after your first visit. I guarantee you there is more atmosphere than gas panic (hey, no-one can accuse me of over promising!) ;)

    Good tip on PCM, Sofa. I’ll check it out. I’ve never been a fan of the ‘Pong so always keen to find a better alternative. (I must say though, I started visiting heartland a lot more after learning about it’s previous incarnation. I guess I’m a sucker for nostalgia)

  8. interesting write up. always more than meets the eye. well done on spending the time on researching this out.

  9. PCM & Heartland, full of Can Cam OL clones on the look out for someone earning a decent salary. As recent research shows, women look for financial security in a man and the man will always go for good looks. No need fighting that, it’s nature that’s all. Get a suit on and get down there and play American Psycho for the night with the beautiful and vacuous.

  10. Vacuous just about says it all. Nice to know there is some heritage to the place. Might as well be called Heartland Zoo these days though…. great for people watching though.

  11. ugh…Heartland? i guess it’s good if you’re looking for the over 40 worn out slags. i prefer Shibuya or some other places to Roppongi. if i’m looking for cheap prostitutes or OLs suffering from smoker’s cough i’ll go back to Roppongi.

  12. Interesting bit of history. I haven’t lived in Japan or Tokyo since Roppongi Hills was built, but drank a lot of Heartland when I was last a resident. It and Yebisu are still the best mass produced Japanese beer for my money with Malts coming in a close third.

  13. What??? I have been there lasst Wednesday and there were mainly groups and only 4 Japanese woman…adn 3 of them also in a group with 2 other Japanese men….
    And the 4th Japanese woman was together with her Gaijin BF….
    So…not a ta ll jampacked with hungry looking Japanese girls/woman hungry for western males…Indeed – > not Wednesday…

    Today is Saturday and I will see how it goes today…I am there in a few hours…I will tell after…here…

  14. I want to add that at Heartland is one small Japnaese woman – she speaks no English at all and is very unfriendly if you cant speak Japanese! But the good thing is: There is a well-travelled other lady (15 countries), which speaks English very well and smiled at me all the time and is very friendly and good for a chitchat. (They work both at the bar)

  15. So, just cam eback from Heartland…Till 11pm it was ok…not to many people, but after 11 it became really crowedand mostly with uneducated Japanese people (means: they don’t speak English or any other foreign language…)…and I spoke not only with men…also with women…

    I mean…not really my club…althugh the fish and chips for 600 are really good and the 3 barkeeper could speak the basic English words…

    The girls are mainly in groups or minimum 2 and do not really look sooooo good…

    I would not go again…

  16. is heartland in roppongi still exist? Its was my favorite bar. Please can someone tell me is it still there?

  17. Yep , still there and quite a few lookers, although there tends to be more and more Japanese youngish businessmen hanging out there as a place To be seen…..
    There at the moment, Thursday night about 1030 and maybe 40 people all up… More than half blokes ….

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