By Oscar Simone
With blacked out windows and a simple sign consisting of Japanese characters and the word “bar,” Chiba Bar is unassuming to say the least. It doesn’t exactly do a great job of selling itself to the public, but it doesn’t need to. The people who know about Chiba Bar are happy they do, and maybe secretly happy that others don’t, if only because Chiba Bar provides a bit of an escape from the ubiquitous American bar culture so easily found in Colorado Springs.
Chiba Bar pulls its name and influence from the city of Chiba, located just outside of Tokyo, as well as from steampunk, sci-fi oriented “against the grainy-ness.” The best representation of Chiba Bar’s personality comes from the TVs on the wall. One day it’s a skate video playing above the bar, another it’s “Cowboy Bebop”, and tomorrow it’ll be a live stream from the International Space Station. The closest thing to sports that you’ll find on a TV here is the Monday night “Super Smash Bros” tournament.
The space features a focused mix of the sleek textures and sharp lines you might find in a modern, uninspired club with neon lights and steam-punk imagery straight out of a graphic novel. With music ranging from floaty, shearing psych pop to thumping industrial house, there is this undeniable energy inside the restaurant intoxicating those who enter, and luring others back.
While Chiba Bar is physically cohesive, it has many faces. It is a refined sushi restaurant with a focused menu and careful attention to flavors. It is a sci-fi, steampunk-themed cocktail bar with out-of-the-box mixes and a lengthy Japanese whisky selection. And on Tuesdays and Fridays, it hosts DJs and becomes home to the insatiable boogie that inevitably comes along with spinning records. Any night at Chiba is unique.
While setting down plates of sashimi and spicy donburi bowls, a server jovially calls out, “If you want forks, that’s no problem! Just say the word!” When it comes to the food, Chiba Bar offers something that is a bit more inventive and ambitious than you might find at many of its downtown sushi rivals. Thankfully, it expertly does so without being overly expensive or pretentious.
The Fakey 180 roll recalls the restaurant’s street culture roots and my own fondness for sweet, spicy, crunchy rolls. With red tobiko, thin slices of fresnos, and sticky teriyaki sauce, the texture and general flavor profile of this roll is awesome. The one thing that I’m not too fond of is the crab stick in the center – I’m not sure if it’s imitation or not, but its overly processed flavor leaves me wishing something a bit simpler was in its place.
The Eel Donburi bowl is Japanese comfort food tailored to the American palate. Warm, tender BBQ eel, avocado, and white radish make the perfect accompaniment for sticky sushi rice. The eel is fresh and cooked perfectly, helping the dish disappear quickly.
While the eight-item menu stays fundamentally the same, some of its components change based on availability. There are staples such as the tuna and salmon donburi bowls, but there’s also the Daily Zuke-Don; a deconstructed nigiri featuring a fish of the day; the Go-Go Godzilla and “Chef James Whimsy,” aka whatever the chef wants. Despite these dishes toting the often dreaded “$mkt price” label, food prices at Chiba Bar rarely top $16.
The Zuke-Don during my latest visit featured a Hawaiian yellowfin tuna, flash-seared and served with nori, wasabi, and sushi rice. The tuna was tender, dark in color, and quite lean. It carried a really subtle, almost smoky flavor that differed greatly from other tuna I’ve had. While Chiba Bar doesn’t feature a ton of different fish options, they will often have one interesting fish each night. There aren’t a ton of options in Colorado Springs to taste less conventional types of fish, but Chiba does seem like one place to do so.
Whether you’re eager to experience a different side of Colorado Springs nightlife, an anime lover who’s tired of bars only showing sports games, or just looking for some damn good sushi, Chiba Bar is definitely worth checking out.