Shinjuku’s Golden Gai: Best bars and how to get there

Shinjuku's Golden Gai, Tokyo

Six alleys in Shinjuku’s Kabukicho red light district are lined with tightly packed independent bars. Glows from within light up the night, but this isn’t the neon city you expect when in Tokyo. This is the Golden Gai, an unfiltered and unpolished doorway into the other side of Tokyo’s nightlife.

What is the Golden Gai? How do you get there? What should you do (or not do) while you are there? We’ve scraped together the savory and seedy details in this Golden Gai travel guide.

What is the Golden Gai?

The Golden Gai housed Tokyo’s black market during the 1950s, and prostitution during the 1960s. It has been described as “a collection of mismatched, tumbledown bars lining alleyways in a darkened corner of Shinjuku”. Unlike much of Tokyo, the Golden Gai does not glitter with neon lights. It hearkens back to a distant time when Japan was still recovering from the ravages of World War II. It offers a rare glimpse of Tokyo’s architectural heritage, most of which was consumed by the 1923 earthquake, the fires of war, or twentieth-century economic development.

The Golden Gai houses over 200 bars, some of which lie upstairs, a floor above their intoxicating companions. Some of the structures are only a few feet wide. You will literally rub shoulders with other customers in many establishments – for this reason, the Golden Gai is considered one of the friendliest places to meet people in all Tokyo.

The Golden Gai is similar in atmosphere to the nearby Omoide Yokocho, which means “Memory Lane”. Colloquially called “Piss Alley”, this small street is lined with tiny yakitori stands and other small restaurants sandwiched alongside one another.

How to get to the Golden Gai

Golden Gai is a few minutes walk from the east exit of Shinjuku Station, located between the Hanazono Shrine and the Shinjuku City Office. If you go by train you can use your Japan Rail Pass to get to Shinjuku Station on any of these JR lines:

Once at Shinjuku station, take the east exit of the station and walk east to Golden Gai.

If you go by subway (not covered by JR Pass), take the E2 exit from Shinjuku-Sanchome station of the Marunouchi, Fukutoshin and Toei-Shinjuku subway lines.

The best bars in Golden Gai

If you feel somewhat intimidated by the vast number of establishments to choose from, try out one of our top picks, below.

Zucca

Zucca is the Italian word for “pumpkin,” sports Halloween-themed decor.

Zucca bar at Golden Gai, Shinjuku
Zucca bar at Golden Gai, Shinjuku
  • Adress: 1-chōme-1-9 Kabukichō, Shinjuku City, Tōkyō-to 160-0021

Albatross

A Gothic-style bar with gilded mirrors and chandeliers, Albatross is rumored to have once been a brothel. The bar has two floors and a roof terrace. The cover charge is about $5.00 U.S.

Albatross bar at Golden Gai, Tokyo
Albatross bar in Golden Gai
  • Adress: 1-chōme-1-7 Kabukichō, Shinjuku City, Tōkyō-to 160-0021

Champion

Champion is famous for its karaoke, as well as its “one coin” 500 yen drinks.

Champion bar, Shinjuku, Tokyo
Inside Champion bar
  • Adress: 1-chōme-1-10 Kabukichō, Shinjuku City, Tōkyō-to 160-0021

Kenzo’s Bar

Leopard print wallpaper, 80s music, and alcohol” – what more can we say? The actor/screenwriter bar owner welcomes international tourists. The cover charge is less than $5.00 U.S.

Kenzo's Bar, Golden Gai, Shinjuku
Quiet night inside Kenzo’s
  • Adress: 1 Chome Kabukicho, Shinjuku City, Tokyo 160-0021

Happy Bar

Featuring vintage rock, soul, and blues music.

Happy bar, Golden Gai, Shinjuku
Behind the bar of Happy bar
  • Adress: 1-chōme-1 Kabukichō, Shinjuku City, Tōkyō-to 160-0021

Bar Darling

Bar Darling offers an escape from the male-dominated establishments, with female bar staff catering to female clientele. Relax with fairy lights, over 100 drink choices, and the occasional local celebrity.

Bar Darling, Golden Gai
Darling Bar entrance, Shinjuku, Tokyo
  • Adress: 1-chōme-1-6 Kabukichō, Shinjuku City, Tōkyō-to 160-0021

Deathmatch in Hell

Catering to death metal music fans, this bar features loud music and no cover charge.

Deatchmatch in Hell, Golden Gai's bar
Inside Deathmatch in Hell – Photo by TTVRaptor
  • Adress: Japón, 〒160-0021 Tōkyō-to, Shinjuku City, Kabukichō, 1-chōme−1−8 新宿ゴールデン街3番街 goldengai 3rd st. 1-1-8

Orange Prince

Orange Prince, also commonly known as Bitter Orange, is open until 5 am and offers a variety of wine, beer, and cocktails.

Orange Prince bar at Golden Gai, tokyo
Orange Prince bar sign inside the bar
  • Adress: 1-chōme-1-7 Kabukichō, Shinjuku City, Tōkyō-to 160-0021

Ace’s

Tourist-friendly, this bar has no cover charge, an English-speaking staff, and all drinks are priced at around $7.00 U.S.

Ace's bar at Golden Gai in Shinjuku
Ace’s bar at Golden Gai in Shinjuku
  • Adress: 1-chōme-1-9 Kabukichō, Shinjuku City, Tōkyō-to 160-0021

La Jetée

Named in honor of the 1962 science fiction film Chris Marker, this bar is a meeting place for disciples of French cinema and the Nouvelle Vague movement. Frequented by film directors such as Tarantino or Wenders, it is the ideal place for filmmakers and artists.

La Jetée bar, Golden Gai
Inside La Jetée bar
  • Adress: 1-chōme-1-8 Kabukichō, Shinjuku City, Tōkyō-to 160-0021, Japón

Golden Gai etiquette

Most bars in the Golden Gai open about 9 pm. Some open as early as 5:30 pm. Remember the following restrictions while in the alleys of the Golden Gai:

  • No smoking or drugs
  • No loitering
  • No shouting or singing
  • No alcoholic beverages outside of the bars
  • No taking photographs or videos without permission, especially if these include people’s faces
  • No climbing on buildings or fences

Some bars have cover charges, while others do not. Cover charges will be clearly indicated on the bar’s door. Some also have “sleeping charges” of about $50.00 U.S., if you pass out and forget to return to your accommodations. Most bars accept cash only.

Because the bars are small and have limited seating, some post signs reading “regulars only”, “no tourists”, or “no foreigners”. Be aware of these signs, and respect them. Don’t worry – plenty of the bars are foreigner friendly. If you see a menu in English, you can confidently head on in.

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