It was our final night in Tokyo before heading to Kyoto the next morning and we couldn’t possibly leave the bright bustling city without checking out the retro-style alleys and tiny bars of Golden Gai!
Before heading to the “Golden District”, we went our separate ways for dinner. I stopped by a restaurant near our hotel for some shochu (Japanese distilled liquor) and gyoza (pan-fried dumplings).
My sister and I eventually met back up and headed to Golden Gai. The small area in Shinjuku contains narrow alleyways bursting with unique tiny bars. Most of them can accommodate no more than 10 people making them super intimate and personal spaces to enjoy a few drinks and meet new people.
After the second World War, Tokyo was on a mission to recover and launched a major redevelopment project. So while the city built new highrises and shopping centers, Golden Gai is one of the rare areas that was left untouched. It remains as it did then, back to Showa-era Tokyo.
The area is world famous for its nightlife and many tourists and locals come to drink until the wee hours of the morning. It’s filled with all kinds of bars and each one has its own unique appeal like outlandish decor, karaoke, or a signature drink.
The majority of the bars have a small cover to pay. Many bars are set in their ways and will only accept regulars. No gaijin (foreigner) here. The locals-only bar are fairly easy to spot, they’ll have their doors closed and the exterior is simple with no signs.
Most of the bars are foreign-friendly though and have signs outside that say so and offer English menus. If you’re not sure, it’s worth a shot to peek your head in and see if you get a smile from the owner and customers. The worst thing that can happen is that they tell you there’s no room.
It was pretty overwhelming and I didn’t know which bar to stop by, but I heard that Kenzo’s Bar was a must-try.
Behind the leopard print door was a narrow steep staircase.
We walked up to the small room with a table taking up the majority of it that could fit maybe 6 people.
We sat at the two leopard print chairs at the bar where Kenzo greeted us. He was wearing a leopard print shirt and jacket. The walls were painted in leopard print. I think you get the theme here. Kenzo asked what we wanted to drink. I went with a beer.
Sitting at the table was a local university student, a couple from Spain, and a French guy who moved to Japan for work who met up with a couple of his friends.
I wasn’t kidding when I said these bars are tiny. You’re sitting should-to-shoulder with people, so enjoy your drink and get to know one another.
We ended up staying at Kenzo’s for a while.
I loved Golden Gai. I loved the energy of it, the intimate bars, and how you can enjoy a drink with so many different people from all over the world. I knew I would have to come back before flying back home.
I could have stayed all night, but it was time to get some rest. We were heading to Kyoto tomorrow!
Shinjuku, Tokyo, 160-0021
Tōkyō-to, Shinjuku-ku, Kabukichō, 1 Chome−1