MISAWA, Japan — A few customers flock in when the doors open at 8 p.m. Milkshakes with a twist of rum take the edge off a steamy summer evening. Smoked ribs that melt off the bone warm dinner plates, and dark ales with a smooth tan froth pour like water from the taps. The scene is downright cozy.

That’s how most nights at My Place begin. But don’t be fooled: On weekends, from about 10 p.m. on, the American-owned bar in downtown Misawa rocks with revelers until sunrise puts out the party.

Take it from Leo Elizondo, a 23-year-old staff sergeant at Misawa Air Base who often heads to My Place after work to unwind. To beat the crowd, he was the first customer at the bar on a recent Saturday.

“After two hours it will get so packed in here you can barely walk,” he said.

“It’s a party,” agreed John Chamberlain, who owns the bar with his wife, Satomi. “Once they start singing karaoke, they can’t stop. Everyone’s just dancing around and doing their thing.”

Turns out the bar’s relocation away from White Pole Road — it’s now a six-minute walk from Misawa Air Base’s main gate — was fortuitous, Chamberlain said. After six years at its old spot, the bar and other neighboring businesses had to move to make way for the city’s American Village redevelopment project. The Chamberlains gutted a former doctor’s clinic and opened anew with a bigger bar about a year ago. The place is heavy on wood with a high ceiling, comfy black couches and a salt-water aquarium built into the wall.

From behind the bar, Chamberlain greets everyone who walks through the door, by name if he knows it: He’s loving life.

“I used to be in the Navy Seabees,” he said. “My detailer said the Navy didn’t care if I got out. I said, ‘OK, see you later.’ It turned out good.”

After working for several Japanese companies, he fired up his own bar and hasn’t looked back.

The Chamberlains have worked hard to make My Place unique. It’s the only joint in town that serves up certain microbrews, and the ribs are a house special, smoked out back for 14 hours.

Above all, the Chamberlains want their bar to be a home away from home. Clientele is a mix of Americans and Japanese, with a few French and British tossed in, from young servicemembers to gray-haired civilians.

“It’s like the sign says,” said Lee Martin, a base contractor: “It’s a place where you can come and feel like you belong.”

As always, if you drink, do so responsibly. Don’t drink and drive.

My Place

Misawa, Japan

Drink prices: Beer, draft and bottled, is 500-800 yen. Mixed drinks and liquors, 600-1,000 yen. Alcoholic milkshakes, 800 yen.

Cover: None

Food: The house special (2,000 yen) is smoked prime rib with homemade cornbread. Homemade burritos and fajitas also are available.

Entertainment: State-of-the-art karaoke with cordless microphones; 200 yen per song. Darts. Live music twice a month. Professional massages are available for 3,500 yen; appointments must be made one day prior.

Clientele: Young and old, lots of Americans, especially on weekends. Also Japanese and a handful of Europeans. Customers can be sedate or wild, depending on the hour and night.

Dress: Anything goes, but mostly casual.

Location: Head straight out the Misawa Air Base’s Main Gate, take a left at New Miyaki’s restaurant, and My Place is two blocks down on the left. Taxis will drop off and pick up patrons at the door. Hours are 8 p.m. to 3:30 a.m., Tuesday through Sunday.

Web site:

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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