While Tokyo offers 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 Shinjuku Golden Gai bars, where suited businessmen and working-class people join each other for drinks over grilled skewers. It’s one of those rare places in Tokyo you definitely must visit. A collection of tiny drinking dens, some of which features off-key karaoke where you can sing your lungs out while enjoying a few drinks, Shinjuku Golden Gai is a district of quirky and eccentric bars, like strangely themed-bars and little hole-in-the-wall bars that can only accommodate four to five guests.
While most of these bars only accept regular customers, you can still try walking in with a polite smile on your face, and if you’re lucky you might just get in. And because most of the bars are small, it gives off an intimate vibe, and who knows, the next stranger might become your friend. Don’t know where to start? Here are the 6 best Golden Gai bars where you can eat and drink the night away.
1. Bar Darling
Our first stop in Golden Gai is Bar Darling, which is owned by an actor who has starred in many films, plays, and television shows. Because of this, other famous personalities are often spotted visiting the bar. Bar Darling offers an extensive menu with 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, various liqueurs. To go along with your drinks, they also offer mouth-watering appetizers. If you’re not sure of what to order, the knowledgeable and easygoing staff members are here to help you.
2. Kenzo's Bar
Quirky and full of personality, another highly recommended bar is Kenzo’s Bar. You’re definitely going to be wowed by the leopard print theme along with the 80s music playing in the background. Most customers are foreigners who come by to chat with 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 and your choice of drink, and you’ll definitely enjoy the night away in this one of a kind Golden Gai bar.
Albatross, established in 1997, is probably one of the most talked about Golden Gai bars, and is highly recommended for art lovers. Beautiful crystal chandeliers adorn the ceiling, aesthetic disco balls illuminate the bar, and a deer head hangs on the wall. Come up to the second floor and to check out the art pieces displayed. Works from different artists are featured here, from paintings to photographs. Come by Albatross and enjoy a few drinks while chatting about art!
4. Bitter Orange
Bitter Orange is a cool Golden Gai bar where you can score cocktails, beers, and wines. True to its name, this bar glows with orange-toned light, and you don’t have to squeeze yourself in because there’s always the counter seats and small tables. There’s something for everyone at Bitter Orange, and it’s probably one of the best Golden Gai bars to bring your friends for a quick drink before hopping off to the next bar. Or maybe you're more into late night talks that last until the wee hours of the morning; Bitter Orange is a good place for that, too. With a relaxing and welcoming atmosphere, you can always strike a conversation with the staff if you’re alone. Bathed in warm hues of orange, you’ll have a great time at this hip Golden Gai haunt.
"Nostalgic" is probably the word you’ll think of when you visit Happy, a tiny bar located on the 3rd floor. You’ll hear the music blasting at full volume (mostly tunes from the 1960s-1980s) and their fantastic collection of vinyl will probably be the envy of everyone, with albums from bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. If you like to dance, 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 and your favorite music playing in the background.
Ace's probably has it all with a flat rate for their drinks, English speaking staff, and a great selection of alcoholic beverages. They play an interesting range of music (some popular hits mixed in with quirky tunes like flamenco) and usually have a muted film playing on the screen while they whip up your choice of drink. Locals and foreigners alike frequent the bar and don’t be surprised when everyone seems to know each other. This friendly bar is a must-visit for first timers in Shinjuku Golden Gai, as it is the most welcoming among the bunch. You can strike a conversation with just about everyone, even the regulars who’ll probably be more than happy to give an insight or two about life in Tokyo.