Get a taste of old Tokyo by having a drink at one of Golden Gai’s tiny, ultra-local, characterful bars. There’s no other place like it in Shinjuku, or indeed the capital.
Golden Gai - image © Florentyna Leow
There’s no shortage of glitzy bars and clubs in Tokyo, but Golden Gai, or the “Golden District,” is one of the few places in Tokyo where you can witness the last remaining vestiges what postwar nightlife looked like. Here, around 200 tiny bars, diners, and clubs are crammed into a scant few blocks of seedy-looking, ramshackle buildings that have seen better days. In contrast to the towering skyscrapers around it, most of the buildings here are at most two stories high.
Bars here tend to be very local. While an increasing number of bars are beginning to accept new patrons, Golden Gai is where most visitors to Tokyo will encounter ichigen-san establishments, i.e. places that are only open to regulars. To avoid potentially awkward situations, look for English signs or menus outside the bars. It’ll be quite clear where the foreign-friendly bars are. Being polite and having a few Japanese phrases on hand will also help.
Golden Gai doesn’t have to be all about drinking, of course. If you’re looking for a good meal, try Ramen Nagi, which serves up an unabashedly fishy and tasty bowl of sardine ramen. True to Golden Gai, the premises are extremely cramped, which just adds to the atmosphere. You’ll need to watch your step on the narrow staircase up to the shop.
Another caveat when visiting Golden Gai: if you’re bar-hopping, always budget more than you think you’ll need. Cover charge notwithstanding, many of the bars here tend to attract a more well-heeled clientele - think people in the entertainment industry, like musicians and artists - and the drinks are priced accordingly. Also, be prepared to forgo some personal space for a few hours. This is your chance to get cozy with the locals and experience a boozy time warp back to the good old days.
Shinjuku Golden Gai (tiny bar neighborhood)
1 Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 160-0021
Varies by shop
Varies by shop
Subway: 2-minute walk from exit E1 of Shinjuku-sanchome Station on the Tokyo Metro Marunouchi and Fukutoshin lines, and Toei Shinjuku line.
Train: 5-minute walk from the east exit of Shinjuku Station.
+81-3-3209-6418 (Shinjuku Sanko Shopping District Promotion Association)
Official website (Japanese)
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