Drink in a Shinjuku Golden Gai Bar in Tokyo

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.
Shinjuku Golden Gai in Tokyo

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.
Shinjuku Golden Gai Tokyo  Shinjuku Golden Gai Tokyo

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.
Shinjuku Golden Gai in Tokyo

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?

I absolutely wanted a polaroid of our Golden Gai drinking experience to fill this hole. And it did.
Shinjuku Golden Gai Tokyo  Shinjuku Golden Gai TokyoShinjuku Golden Gai Tokyo

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 one of the top things to do in Tokyo 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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Eat at a Themed Restaurant in Tokyo


2017-07-25T14:45:56+00:00 February 28th, 2014|Categories: Asia, FOOD, Japan, TRAVEL|Tags: , , , |


  1. Jen February 28, 2014 at 10:27 pm - Reply

    Great post Annette. I loved Golden Gai. We did a little bar hopping there one night and managed to get a seat in 3 really inviting little bars. We met some great locals and a few fellow travellers and learnt more about Japanese culture in that one night than what we did in 3 weeks in the country. It is a must do experience in Tokyo.

    • Annette White March 1, 2014 at 9:22 am - Reply

      Sounds like you had a memorable night in Golden Gai too!

  2. The Yum List March 2, 2014 at 4:38 pm - Reply

    I want to visit this spot too!

  3. Tourist in Romania March 3, 2014 at 6:09 am - Reply

    Woow, so little space…and yet it looks kind of cosy

    • Annette White March 3, 2014 at 9:31 am - Reply

      It was really cozy and easy to meet your neighbors at the bar!

  4. Ashley Bee March 3, 2014 at 11:58 am - Reply

    Very cool, I love finding local dive bars when on vacation, makes you feel like you know what you’re doing 😉

  5. Taylor March 4, 2014 at 12:27 pm - Reply

    I’ve never seen any bars so tiny! Would be a fun way to get to know some new people 🙂

    • Annette White March 4, 2014 at 1:50 pm - Reply

      I had never been to one so tiny before either! That’s why I had to go 🙂

  6. Michael Nordmeyer March 6, 2014 at 4:07 am - Reply

    I’ve been to Golden Gai once in 2011 but I cannot remember the exact bar to which I went to. Unfortunately the last train from Shinjuku was around midnight. So if you want to drink come early or stay the whole night.

  7. Heather March 9, 2014 at 3:03 pm - Reply

    I love the hangers on the back wall for the business men to hang up their suit jackets 🙂

    • Annette White March 17, 2014 at 5:52 am - Reply

      Many of the restaurants had those hangers too. I thought it was a genius idea!

  8. Justyna in travel March 22, 2014 at 1:09 pm - Reply

    What a pity, that I wasn’t there! A next reason for me to get back to Japan 😉 When I was partying with my Japanese friends, I liked the most umeshu – did you like it also? 🙂

    • Annette White March 22, 2014 at 3:20 pm - Reply

      I never tried Umeshu! Now I have to go back to Japan…

  9. Jonathan Look, Jr. March 28, 2014 at 6:28 pm - Reply

    I love little out of the way, intimate bars and restaurants. There seems to be a reason to be there as opposed to the huge, big bass, flashing light “discos”. Have to admit though I agree, a good wine bar is hard to beat.

  10. Lisa May 8, 2014 at 6:16 am - Reply

    My first time in Tokyo we stumbled opon Nessun Dorma, we drank all night with Masa and made friends with the locals. What a wonderful experience.

    • Annette White May 8, 2014 at 6:55 am - Reply

      How fun! I am looking forward to a second visit there one day.

  11. Anwar March 24, 2017 at 5:33 pm - Reply

    Awesome man! I went to golden gai too when I was in Tokyo. Having gone to japan a lot i wanted to finally go into this place too. Thankfully I had some local friends who were able to get us into a non-foreigner bar as well as act as translators for us. Great experience too! Love your story as well. Golden Gai was one of my favorite experiences in Tokyo. I went with some locals which helped to get into some of the places. http://www.beyondmyfrontdoor.com/wp/night-in-golden-gai/

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