Listed in pretty much every guidebook on Tokyo, thousands of tourists flock to this tiny area every night, seeking the authentic Golden Gai experience. Upon arriving, however, it is easy to be put off. The sheer number of bars to choose from and its warren-like quality can make it difficult to choose just one. Not to mention its’ (unfair) reputation for snooty bar-tenders who will turn away foreginers, exculsive bars that are invite-only and bank-breaking cover charges. The vast majority of bars, contrary to what you might hear, are actually open to all. English signage outside is a sure-fire way of knowing, but if in doubt, there’s no harm in poking your head in. In the Golden Gai, you never know what you might find.
Not just a go-to spot for drinking, there are also a number of excellent places to eat. The unmissable orange curtains hang over the windows of ‘Dongara-Gassyan’; a make-shift restaurant on the corner that specialises in the Japanese cuisine of ‘Kushiage’ – fried food on skewers. With some options as cheap as ¥150, draft beer for ¥600 and best of all, no cover charge, this place is a great first port of call to ease yourself into the area and stock up on some hearty Tokyo cuisine. While ‘Dongara-Gassyan’ is a busy spot, it’s not in the same league as ‘Nagi’ in terms of popularity. If you have the patience to wait in the queue, proceed up the cramped staircase and get a spot at the counter, you are in for a treat. With five separate restaurants across Tokyo, this branch of the Nagi franchise is unique as a ramen shop in that it serves the dish in a sardine-base. Two other food spots worth mentioning are ‘Miso Soup’ which has a steep ¥1,000 cover charge but allows you to have as much miso soup as you can stomach, and ‘Kyoto Green Tea Soba’ on the 2nd floor nearby. With food available from as little as ¥300, this is another great option for those looking for a bite in the area.
With over 200 bars to choose from, it can be a dizzying experience for first-time visitors. For those looking for a trusted recommendation, here are a few great options. Bar ‘Champion’ is both very easy to see, and very easy to hear. Drinks that cost ¥500 and no cover charge make this the arguably the cheapest bar in the area, admittedly with standing room only. The price you pay comes in the form of karaoke. If being serenaded by drunken strangers is your idea of fun then this place is perfect. If not, then it’s still worth stopping by to sample the atmosphere.
‘Albatross’ is a few streets over and while slightly harder to find than ‘Champion’, the classy décor means it’s frequented by just as many tourists. While the ¥500 charge and ¥700 drinks are fairly typical of Golden Gai, this dimly-lit three floor building with its’ low-hanging chandeliers and great soundtrack makes Albatross anything but a typical bar. Come for its’ intriguing look, stay for its’ ‘Spicy Gin’ cocktails.
Up from the beaten alleyways of Golden Gai, lies ‘araku’ bar. A red-velvet staircase that looks like it belongs in neighbouring Kabukicho, leads to a rather large and fun bar that is particularly welcoming to foreigners. With no cover charge for tourists, plenty of Okinawan beer on offer and a great view overlooking the alley, this is a great place for those seeking a bit of everything Golden Gai has to offer.
While the aesthetic exterior of ‘Lemon no ki’ may not be as dazzling or as impressive as many other bars in the area, it is another spot worth a visit. Very rarely frequented by tourists, ‘Lemon no ki’ has 80s music on loop on the big-screen TV, the best food provided from a cover charge you could imagine and a lovely bar-owner who will ensure your night is a special one.
Last but not least, is one bar that is arguably the trickiest to find. ‘Dansan’ may not have any English notices outside or even an English menu but the staff are more than accommodating, provided there are any seats
left at the bar! The local bar for the Suntory Sungoliath rugby team, this amazingly decorated bar on the second floor is a shrine to Japanese rugby and the sport in general. Rugby fans and non-fans alike should definitely make ‘Dansan’ top of their list when intending to visit the Golden Gai.
While the places mentiond are all safe-bets for a good night, don’t be afraid to just pop into whichever takes your fancy. Whether it be Halloween-themed, heavy-metal influenced or Nintendo-based, with such a huge amount to choose from; you’re bound to find your perfect drinking spot here in the Golden Gai.
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