There’s an area in Shinjuku called Golden Gai, a narrow maze of criss-crossing streets dense with tiny drinking holes. It’s an alcoholic oasis from a different era of Japan, hidden in amongst the ultra-modern neon and the intense crowds of a Saturday night in Shinjuku.
The Tomorrow bar that a small group of us went to was run by a lovely lady – she was the only staff member there, and possibly owned it too. I took this photo with my back against the wall near the front door, to give you an idea of the size. You could sit maybe 6 or 7 people there total, with only a little standing room left after that. It’s much like having a drink in someone’s kitchen at their breakfast bar.
A lot of the bars have themes, to give them that unique feel. One we passed was a blues bar, another a slightly alternative hippie vibe, another had deep brown hardwood floors and a sophisticated cigar-and-cognac feel to it. Another one we almost went in to reeked of fish. I don’t know if that was their theme, though.
The size of these places give them an intimate feel, like you’re a guest rather than a customer. My understanding is that many of the bars cater to regulars and they’re not really geared to foreigners very much. So, there were a few communication troubles, at least until a Japanese friend turned up to interpret.
Now, some wisdom if you ever want to go to Golden Gai. As it turned out, there was a group reservation due soon, so we only had time for one drink. A good thing too. Many of these bars have a “seating charge” of around $5, plus the cost of the drinks, which are not too cheap either. So, the vodka and cranberry I ordered cost about $16 overall. It’s not unheard of to pay that much for a fancy cocktail in Australia too, but just a warning that it will cost a little bit more than what’s printed on the menu.
At any rate, my drink wasn’t actually a vodka and cranberry after all – I think it was vodka and some sort of red rocket fuel. So, I got my money’s worth.
The service was fantastic – we were served delicious, lightly salted edamame (soy beans in the shell), and looked after very well. The atmosphere of the place had a very secluded, sophisticated feel to it.
Golden Gai is an incredibly interesting, charismatic area, with so many unique places to explore. You might want to make sure you have a good bankroll and smattering of Japanese or a Japanese friend first, though!