Top Bars For Visiting Americans And Singles
By Robi Hutcheson
So, you’ve only got a few nights – maybe just a one-night layover – to spend in Japan. This is a quick guide to Tokyo – the best bars, clubs, restaurants and scene spots. It’s good for locals as well as visitors of all nationalities. In addition to Tokyo, we take a quick jaunt to Kyoto, a tourist city with a vibrant nightlife.
So enjoy our quick tour of the bar scene to Asia’s most bustling city.FYI, the drinking (and smoking) age is 20.
Tokyo’s Best Bars
It ‘s expensive to drink but bars – and shots – are plentiful in Tokyo.
The good news about this massive city known for $10 cups of coffee and $200 taxi rides from the airport is that it has more places to get drunk than some states.
Yes, it has jazz clubs with $70 covers and “hostess” clubs that will hit you up for $200 before the girls and drinks arrive. But, if you accept that you’ll be paying $8 for a beer and $10 for a shot, the town is manageable. As for wine, wait until you get home. You’ll pay 3 times as much for stuff you swear came from a screw-top.
Nightlife options in Japan range from the legendary “hostess” clubs where you can possibly get more than drinks to dive bars which they proudly call “Shot Bars” to the wackiest themed dance clubs. Drinking in the streets is legal almost everywhere.Cans of beer are sold in vending machines.
There’s no mandatory last call or closing time. Some bars open up at 5pm for the after-work crowd. Then again, some open at 5am for the after-night crowd. Just stay away from any place with English-speaking doorman trying to lure tourists inside.
Tokyo has many different neighborhoods or districts in which to party. PubClub’s local party guide recommended Roppongi. It’s friendly to Westerners, known as “gaijin.” Many transplants from the US and Europe work there. It’s where the Hard Cafe Tokyo is located, and better still (for girls) has Tokyo’s newest high-end mall, Roppongi Hills. And guys, it’s crammed full of young, well-groomed Japanese women. It also has a some very nice restaurants with bars that serve real Western-style food.
Friday is the best night for going out. At 5pm, huge office towers empty into the streets and bars. Roppongi Crossing becomes like New York’s Times Square. If you’re looking to pick a meeting spot, the front of Almond (pronounced all-mon-doe) coffee house is the place. It’s not a bad spot to talk with someone whose date hasn’t shown yet, either.
Although there is a multitude of places to choose from on the main streets, most locals go to the winding side streets. A common goal seems to be finding the smallest possible bar to squeeze into. Some barely hold 30 people. To underscore how densely pack together these places are you may be thinking: “If we don’t like this place, we’ll go to the one down the hall, upstairs, downstairs or next door.”
With taxis outrageously expensive, many people stick to spots in walking distance to home or work. Those who commute in from the suburbs on the trains have a choice come midnight: Catch the last train home or stay out until they start up again at 5:30am. This explains why some bars suddenly lose half their crowd around midnight. Rest assured, those in suits still there aren’t going home any time soon.
Here’s a rundown of the best places:
Bar Ambrose. Located in the “Pyramid” building, it’s just another restaurant/bar but features a $4 drink special for happy hour. Not a bad choice for a date or afterwork drink. It’s not worth going to after 8pm.
Bar Milwaukee. An English-style pub in a basement that features darts, foosball and a pool table. And a lot of Gaien men. Be careful upon entering; the dart board is precariously close to the bottom of the stairs.
Bauhaus. A Japanese band plays American ’70s & ’80s cover tunes. Sometimes the lyrics are sung phonetically. A lot of fun, more so for those able to talk their way past the $20 cover charge. The “band” allows people to challenge in for spots and its members double as waiters and bartenders.
Charleston and Son’s. An Italian restaurant with passable food that features an outdoor patio. Good place to start a night. The crowd is mixed of Gaien and natives
Hobgoblin. Another pub-style bar full of transplants from Great Britain. The house brew isn’t worth drinking. The highlight of PubClub’s visit there there was seeing a bachelor, celebrating is last night of freedom, hitting the floor at 11pm on a Thursday. He was wearing an S&M hood, pink lei and pink sequined g-string over his suit.
Magambo. This is an African-themed bar full of white people. And it’s pretty lively. Be wary of this bar on a pay-day (Friday). The bell above the bar’s purpose? To announce someone is buying shots for the whole place. (At $10/shot one has to be a very generous host but it happens more frequently than one would expect.) There’s also a “2 for 1” weekly special. The walls and ceiling are dedicated to polaroids of people with their name and number. There’s a plaque on the wall dedicated to the “1,000 Shot Club.”
Another fun Japan destination is Kyoto. It’s a town that may be best known for its temple-hopping but it definitely is set up for nightlife, as well.
A good starting place is the Westin Miyagi. Its Moon Light Lounge offers a fabulous 180-degree view from the mountains to the city. Better still, it offers American-sized martinis for about $10. It’s a great place for a pre-dinner drink.
Kyoto itself has two main nightlife districts: Gion and Kiya-machi (the River Walk.) Gion is best known as the hang-out for the Geisha. (Ask really nicely and one might stop for a photo.)
Gion’s main drag (Higashi-oji-dori) has a full range of typical Japanese nightlife from upscale restaurants to “shot bars” (dives). The River Walk is a long alley filled with clubs, bars and restaurants. If it’s not a weekend, it seems more like a place to take a date than find a mate. The sheer volume of options for drinking and eating are mind-boggling.
One warning: If seated on a open-air patio along the river, expect to pay a table charge of $10 or more per person.
For getting around, taxi service is much more reasonable here than Tokyo.