While Tokyo offers an extensive range of bars, lounges, and neon-lit clubs with free-flowing spirits and drinks, nothing beats the down-to-earth feel and local vibe at Shinjuku Golden Gai bars, where suited salarymen and working-class folks join each other for drinks over grilled skewers of meat and veggies. It’s one of those rare, really authentic places you must visit during your stay in Japan.
A collection of tiny drinking dens, some of which feature off-key karaoke where you can sing your lungs out, Shinjuku Golden Gai, in Kabukicho, has been going strong since the 1960s. It's a district full of quirky and eccentric bars and mini izakaya. Golden Gai is where you'll find strangely themed-bars and little hole-in-the-wall spots that can only accommodate four to five guests at a time.
Sounds awesome! Which bar do I hit first?
Many of the bars in Tokyo's Golden Gai only accept regular customers, meaning that they might refuse out-of-town guests. You can still try walking into a random bar with a polite smile on your face though, and if you’re lucky you might just get a seat. Because most of the bars are small, they give off an intimate vibe, and who knows, the next stranger might become your friend.
Here are six of the best Golden Gai bars, where you can eat and drink the night away (they are some of the most welcoming ones!).
Recommended: Go on a guided tour through Golden Gai for a stress-free way to explore the area!
6 Best Golden Gai Bars
Here are some highly recommended bars in Golden Gai to kick off an evening in Shinjuku!
- Bar Darling
- Kenzo's Bar
- Bitter Orange
- Ace's Bar
1. Bar Darling
Our first stop in Golden Gai is Bar Darling, which is owned by an actor who has starred in many films, plays, and television shows. Because of this, other famous personalities are often spotted visiting the bar. Bar Darling offers an extensive menu with over a hundred types of alcoholic beverages to choose from, and if that doesn't wow you, they also have single-malt drinks or, if you prefer, various liqueurs.
To go along with your drinks, they also offer mouthwatering appetizers. If you’re not sure of what to order, the knowledgeable and easygoing staff members are there to help you.
2. Kenzo's Bar
Quirky and full of personality, another highly recommended watering hole is Kenzo’s Bar in Golden Gai. You’re definitely going to be wowed by the leopard-print theme along with the 80s music playing in the background.
Most customers are foreigners who come by to chat with Kenzo, the owner. His friendliness and over-all helpfulness for first timers in the bar will surely win your heart. Add to that the fantastic vibe of the bar and your choice of drink, and you’ll definitely enjoy the night away in this one-of-a-kind Golden Gai bar.
Albatross, established in 1997, is probably one of the most talked-about Golden Gai bars, and is highly recommended for art lovers. Beautiful crystal chandeliers adorn the ceiling, aesthetic disco balls illuminate the bar, and a deer head hangs on the wall.
Head up to the second floor to check out the art pieces displayed. Works from different artists are featured here, from paintings to photographs. Drop by Albatross and enjoy a few drinks while chatting about art.
4. Bitter Orange
Bitter Orange is a super cool Golden Gai bar where you can score cocktails, Japanese beers, and wines. True to its name, this bar glows with orange-toned light, and you don’t have to squeeze yourself in because there’s always the counter seats and small tables. There’s something for everyone at Bitter Orange, and it’s probably one of the best Golden Gai bars to bring your friends for a quick drink before hopping off to the next bar. Or maybe you're more into late-night talks that last until the wee hours of the morning; Bitter Orange is a good place for that, too.
With a relaxing and welcoming atmosphere, you can always strike up a conversation with the staff if you’re alone. Bathed in warm hues of orange, you’ll have a great time at this hip Shinjuku Golden Gai haunt.
"Nostalgic" is probably the word you’ll think of when you visit Happy. You’ll hear the music blasting at full volume (mostly tunes from the 1960s-1980s) and their fantastic collection of vinyl will be the envy of everyone, with albums from bands ranging from The Beatles to The Rolling Stones.
If you like to dance, be sure to visit this Golden Gai spot during the last Friday of the month for their Disco Night. It’s a fun way to cap off the night with your favorite beverage and your favorite music playing in the background.
Ace's has it all with a flat rate for their drinks, English-speaking staff, and a great selection of alcoholic beverages. They play an interesting range of music (some popular hits mixed in with quirky tunes) and usually have a muted film playing on the screen while they whip up your choice of drink. Locals and foreigners alike frequent the bar—and don’t be surprised when everyone seems to know each other.
This friendly bar is a must-visit for first timers to Shinjuku Golden Gai, as it is one of the most welcoming among the bunch. You can strike up a conversation with just about everyone, even the regulars who’ll probably be more than happy to give an insight or two about life in Tokyo.
Golden Gai FAQs
Visitors have a lot of questions about Shinjuku's Golden Gai district. Here, we try to answer some of the most common of them!
How Many Bars Are There in Golden Gai?
There are more than 280 bars in Shinjuku's Golden Gai, most of them super tiny! It might feel like they are stacked above, beneath and beside each other.
Is Golden Gai Worth It?
Yes! A night in Shinjuku's Golden Gai will be one you remember for the rest of your life. It's a chance to mingle with locals, make new friends and get a glimpse into what Tokyo nightlife was like in the "old days".
What Is the Best Bar in Golden Gai?
It's impossible to pick a single best Golden Gai bar, but some of the top contenders for visitors include Ace's Bar, Kenzo's Bar, and Albatross.
Where Is the Best Place to Eat in Golden Gai?
To taste some of the best food in Golden Gai, join a guided food tour.
Golden Gai is also featured in our Shinjuku Food Guide video.
Keen to explore more of the city? Browse our full collection of bar-hopping tours in Tokyo, or live vicariously through Shizuka as she bar-hops through Harmonica Yokocho in Kichijoji! If you're going to Osaka, check out their version of Golden Gai—and other yokocho!