In the last month, I’ve been to dozens of bars all over Tokyo, and I’ve loved every second of it — from the achingly hip Shimokitazawa to the bold and garish glow of Shinjuku, there’s so much to see and so much to, er, drink.
Tokyo nightlife really is special — and for a whole host of reasons. The neighbourhoods are all distinctive and have their own unique character about them. The bars are quirky. The people are kind and interesting. Tokyo feels very safe, so I’ve never felt worried about exploring a new place on my own. It’s also very easy to make friends.
Anyway, here are my favourite haunts, brought to me via Flip Guide and all appealing to a certain aspect of my personality.
Bao Bab is the very first bar I went to in Tokyo and it’s definitely up there with the best. It was here that I was introduced to a Tokyo standard — the Moscow Mule. Up a staircase and sandwiched between plenty of other bars, you might not notice Bao Bab at first. And that’s often the case with bars in this city; prepare to climb some staircases and feel self-conscious when you open that sliding door. Be brave!
Bao Bab is a quirky place, influenced by North African and Mediterranean cuisine while still being, undeniably, a Japanese establishment. The music is fantastic and the owner has over 3000 (!) records. I dig any bar that’s not afraid to be utterly itself and Bao Bab is just that. It has that buzz that interesting places always do.
My second Shinjuku pick is Bar 3 (pronounced Bar San), which is very different from Bao Bab in every possible way. With fairy lights and green vines tumbling down from the ceiling, it feels like a pretty magical place to enjoy a cocktail or two. There’s even a Studio Ghibli corner which suits the whimsical mood of the place.
My favourite part? Just how comfortable it is. The lighting is gorgeous, the staff kind and the drinks affordable (and delicious). If I wanted to impress you with an Instagram-able place where we could all sit around looking and feeling glamorous, this would be it.
Bar 808, Shimokitazawa
Shimokita is my favourite neighbourhood in Tokyo. I love the vintage shops and the huge selection of bars and restaurants. Sure, it’s kind of like a trendy area of Brooklyn or East London, but it’s also got a brilliantly Japanese sensibility about it. The bars aren’t run by moustachioed hipsters, but by older Japanese people who’ve lived there for years and care a lot about the standard of drinks and food they’re serving.
Bar 808 is a rock bar run by a very cool Japanese guy. He makes his own infused spirits, including clear Jack Daniels infused with coffee. My friends went for one of these homemade liquors, infused with cinnamon, and it was so delicious that I initially regretted my choice. As it was, I went for a mojito, which was also fantastic. With old videos of Meat Loaf from MTV playing and neon-purple up-lights slowly taking the day into night, I felt so happy and relaxed here.
Bar Ohana, Kichijoji
A lot of restaurants and bars in Tokyo are family-owned, but this one had a very particular homely vibe to it. I felt extremely privileged to visit Ohana, because it kind of felt like I was joining the family for the hour or so that I was there. Kichijoji is a vibrant and very cool area, but it’s also populated by a lot of seedy establishments around the station — Ohana is the polar opposite of all of that.
If you, like me, like to get to know locals, then this is an ideal place to do just that. The owner is a wonderful and very fun Japanese lady, who offered me a book of photos from her recent trip to Ireland and chatted away to me about my hometown. The drinks had a tropical vibe to them and the food was Italian with a Japanese twist, bringing a world of flavour and quirkiness to somewhere that looks ostensibly like a traditional izakaya. I’ll definitely be back.
If I was feeling fancy but wanted something affordable, I would definitely visit Mezzo again, a fun and very stylish bar in the Roppong areai. It’s right on the main street and feels very spacious for a Tokyo bar. The music is fun, the vibe young and cheerful.
Somewhere between a bar and a club, it’s the kind of place you can dance while snacking (my dream). With a mix of cool ex-pat and Japanese clientele, its a really awesome place to chill for a few hours before you head to a club or more energetic bar. Sometimes, you just want to dress up and drink with your friends — and Mezzo is the perfect place to do that.
And there you have it — the best and brightest of Tokyo’s nightlife (in my opinion). What’s so great about Tokyo (and what’s so great about Flip Guide) is that there really is something for everyone.
Whatever mood I’m in, I can use the filters to find the ideal place for me. I wouldn’t have found these places without recommendations — so why do Tokyo any other way? Get the app. Trust me. I’ll be using it again as soon as I’m back in this wonderful city.
All the best,