I am typically a wine lounge kind of lady. Take me to a swanky place with Lorde playing in the background, cushioned couch seating and a large selection of red wine to choose from and I will be as happy as a monkey with a peanut machine. Drinking in a Shinjuku Golden Gai bar in Tokyo was nothing like that, in fact it was the complete opposite.
And I liked it. In a divey-bar, fabulous sort of way.
Golden Gai is a neighborhood in the Shinjuku ward of Tokyo that squeezes in over 200 miniature bars into a network of six narrow alleys, made only for pedestrians.
Most bars in this section of town seat less than ten drinkers and cater to the locals. But, some welcome traveling foreigners like myself and I was looking forward to planting my butt onto one of the limited stools in one of them.
We headed to Shinjuku’s Golden Gai area early one evening on a mission to find a place to drink the night away. We aimlessly wandered through the dimly lit alleyways, looking for someplace two Americans would be welcomed and it became pretty evident to where that would be.
The ‘foreigners welcome’ signs, advertised ‘foreigner charge’ or more simply just by the menus written in English told us these would be our drinking venues.
We were happy to have quite a few to choose from, most charging a cover ranging from 500 to 1000 yen ($4.89 to $9.78 USD). Though, there were a few spots boasting signs with no cover charge. Bonus.
We decided to do our drinking at Nessun Dorma, which means None Shall Sleep, mostly because we saw foreigners sharing a beer through the window and there were a couple of vacant seats at the bar.
This particular place had a 700 yen cover charge just to claim one of the limited stools. We squeezed our way to the seats, causing each of the already drinking guests to have to push in their chairs in order for us to get by. It was a tight space.
Nessun Dorma had a whopping six seats at the bar in front and eight very crowded ones in the back room.
This was humongous by Golden Gai standards.
Even though they had a back bar filled with hard liquor and offered specialty cocktails with obscene names, we followed the lead of our new friends seated next to us and ordered a Japanese beer. This was Tokyo after all.
After an hour of drinking, we noticed a corkboard that had a few dozen polaroid’s of past clients at Nessun Dorma. And there was one vacant spot right in the middle. Do you see where I’m headed with this?
Before we left, the bartender asked why did you want to come to Shinjuku’s Golden Gai? It bewildered him and the other bar owners why it was a hotspot for travelers.
All the guests were on the same page in saying that we just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a unique experience only to be found in Tokyo. And the beer was good too.
If you’d feel more comfortable, Voyagin offers a tour of Shinjuku and Golden Gai.
Is Drinking at a Shinjuku Golden Gai bar on your bucket list?
Shinjuku’s Golden Gai is a few minutes walk from the East Exit of Shinjuku Station.
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