Golden Gai is in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo known for its nightlife and brilliant little bars to drink in.
Surrounded by skyscrapers and bright lights, Golden Gai (Golden District) is a small area of alleyways packed full of tiny bars in little old buildings. This place has character and you’ll find yourself wondering around the intriguing area for a while before even stepping into a bar for a drink.
Drinking in Golden Gai – Over 200 Bars!
Apparently there are around 200 bars in this tiny area of Tokyo. This sounds like a lot and it is, but that’s because most of the bars can seat about 6-10 people. The bohemian personality of the area means that it attracts artists and Japanese celebrities.
Apparently some bars only serve regulars or you have to be introduced by a regular. Some bars require some level of Japanese communication as these bars are all about socialising. Some also have a cover charge but we were lucky enough not to be charged at any of the places we went.
We drank at three different bars during our Golden Gai night of fun and had no trouble getting in and experienced friendly service and sociable fellow drinkers.
Tiny Themed Bars
Each bar has it’s own theme in terms of decor and music, and many serve snacks as well so there really is something for everyone.
Some bars in Golden Gai have English menus too which can be a good way to start your evening in Golden Gai, but confidence increases as the night and alcohol levels progress and you’ll find yourself being drawn to the bars that are less catered for tourists.
We only visited three bars on our night out, we have no idea what they were called but…
Golden Gai Bar 1:
We walked upstairs to a tiny bar with six seats decorated in a very kitch fashion. The small size really hits you at first, it’s amazing what can be done in such a tiny space and the atmosphere that can fill the room.
What at first was a novelty became normal and in fact made us wonder why there aren’t more bars like these around the world.
The bar person helped us to decide on drinks, and she even gave everyone some free snacks between drinks. We got talking to a group of locals having a little party for someone leaving their company – opposite to general stereotypes about Japanese people being shy, it seems that they love to converse and share with tourists whenever they have the opportunity (or at least the people we met in Golden Gai).
Golden Gai Bar 2:
More like a traditional English pub but on a small scale, this bar actually had a few floors, each floor seating about 10 people, so probably one of the larger bars in Golden Gai.
This one had an English menu and seemed to have more non-locals, as such there was a little less atmosphere and people tended to chat amongst their own groups. If this was the only bar we experienced in Golden Gai it certainly wouldn’t have reflected the real Golden Gai bars.
Golden Gai Bar 3:
This was a perfect end to our night out in Golden Gai. We fancied a bit of music and heard some blasting out of this little bar. We stepped into another small bar seating about eight people filled with Japanese conversation and laughter. A DJ was at the end of the bar spinning some recognisable tunes on a retro turntable and the fun only escalated as the night went on.
The level of cheese in the music went up as well, we heard the theme song to Super Mario and then Barry Manilow came on and the whole bar started waving their arms. Despite speaking no English at all a man sitting next to Sacha became her dance partner for the night.
It was a great couple of hours of innocent fun and we were made to feel so welcome. That hospitality shown by the barman and the other drinkers (along with my level of intoxication) meant that I bought a round for the whole bar. There was probably no bar more deserving than this brilliant little drinking den in Golden Gai. Two bucketlist items checked in one day: (i) buying a round of drinks for a whole bar (ii) drinking in Golden Gai.
Drinking in Golden Gai – The Best Bar Crawl in the World?
Golden Gai might just be the best place in the world for a nice bar crawl. No macho idiots getting aggressive, lots of bars each with their own theme, and brilliant people.
Drink from around 500 Yen isn’t too bad to experience something like Golden Gai, but be aware that smoking inside these bars is prevalent as it is in all bars throughout Japan. If you find the right bar you’ll have an amazing time, and even if you don’t you can walk out and there’ll be many options for you to try.
It was sad to hear about the fire last month damaging five buildings in Golden Gai and we hope that it fully recovers soon. It truly is a unique place, we thank the defenders of the area who have stopped the bulldozers and skyscrapers from replacing the old buildings that are so full of life and good times.
Golden Gai Resources: