While the city offers more than what you expect with an extensive range of bars, lounges, and neon-lit clubs with free-flowing spirits and drinks, nothing beats the down to earth feel and local vibe at Golden Gai bars where suited businessmen and working-class people join each other for a round of drinks over grilled skewers. It’s one of those rare places in Tokyo you definitely must visit. A collection of tiny drinking dens that some features off-key karaoke where you can sing your lungs out while raising your glass and having a great time with your company, Golden Gai is a district with bars that have it owns quirks, whether signature drinks are forever free or slashed original price during early happy hours, strangely themed-bars, or maybe the ones that can only accommodate four to five guests in their den. While most of these bars only accept regular customers, you can still take your shot by walking in with a polite smile on your face and if you’re lucky, you might just get in. Because most of the bars are small, it gives off that intimate vibe as you go along and who knows, the next stranger might become your friend.
Already feeling the buzz but don’t know where to start? Here are the 6 best Golden Gai bars. Drink up and enjoy the night away.
First stop is Bar Darling (1-1-5 Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo) which is owned by an actor who starred in very many different films, plays, and television shows and because of this, related personalities are often seen visiting the bar and having a great time. Bar Darling offers an extensive menu of over a hundred types of alcoholic beverages to choose from and if that doesn’t wow you, they also have single malt drinks or if you prefer, delicious and suave servings of various liqueurs. To go along with your drinks, they also offer mouth-watering appetizers that will go really well with your choice of drink. If you’re not sure of what to order, knowledgeable and easy going female staffs are here to help you.
Quirky and full of personality, another highly recommended bar is Kenzo’s Bar (2F, 1-1-7 Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo). You’re definitely going to love the leopard prints along with the 80’s music playing in the background. Aside from that, plays and politics play are the recurring themes in the bar. Most customers are foreigners who enjoy talking to Kenzo, the owner. His friendliness and over-all helpfulness for first timers in the bar will surely win your heart. Add to that the fantastic vibe of the bar with your choice of drink, you’ll definitely enjoy the night away in this one of a kind bar.
Albatross (1-1-7 Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo) is probably one of the most talked about bar in Golden Gai. It’s highly recommended for those who enjoy art. Beautiful crystal chandeliers adorn the ceiling with aesthetic disco balls illuminating the bar. A deer head hanging on the wall is probably one of the highlights of the bar. Come up to the second floor and you’ll be in awe of the gorgeous art pieces displayed. Different art exhibits are held here of paintings and photographs. You can enjoy your drink while admiring art at the same time in Albatross. It’s definitely worth the visit.
Bitter Orange (3rd street, 1-1-7 Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo) is a cool and chic place where you can score cocktails, beers, and wines. Everything glows in this bar and you don’t have to squeeze yourself in because there’s always the preferable counter seats and small tables to have a place on. There’s something for everyone and it’s probably one of the best bars to bring your friends for a quick or maybe up until 5 a.m. late night talks. It gives off that relaxing atmosphere once you’re inside and you can always strike a conversation or two with the bar staff if you’re alone. With its warm different hues of orange, you’ll have a great time in here.
Nostalgia is probably the word you’ll think of when you visit Happy (Maruha building 3F, 1-1-7 Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo). You’ll hear 60’s to 80’s music playing in full volume in their speakers and their great collection of vinyl will probably be the envy of all with selections such as The Beatles and Rolling Stones. If you like to dance the night away, be sure to visit them during the last Friday of the month for their Disco Night. It’s a fun way to cap off the night with your favorite beverage to drink and your favorite music playing in the background.
Ace’s (1-1-9 Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-0021) probably has it all with a flat rate for their drinks, English speaking staff, and a great selection of alcoholic beverages. They play great music while they whip up your choice of drink. Locals and foreigners frequent the bar and don’t be surprised when everyone seems to know each other. This friendly bar is a must for those first timers in Golden Gai. You can strike a conversation with almost everyone, even the regulars who’ll probably be more than happy to give an insight or two about life.
She’s cooking and baking for her family and friends. She finds grocery shopping therapeutic, always takes the longest time in the Asian section and debates with herself whether she needs that extra pack of instant ramen. A lover of sweets, she dreams of owning a patisserie and publishing her book but most of the time, she’s just really thinking of what to eat for breakfast the next day.