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Unique Tokyo Nightlife: Diving Deep Into Shinjuku’s Unmissable Kabukicho!

Unique Tokyo Nightlife: Diving Deep Into Shinjuku’s Unmissable Kabukicho!

Date published: 18 January 2019
Last updated: 2 February 2021

1-chome in Shinjuku’s Kabukicho is called “Shinjuku Golden Gai” – Golden Gai. It got its start after the war as a black-market area, the street lined with long, narrow buildings called “barracks” because of the resemblance, each with rows of places to eat and drink. In the old days, this was a popular place for actors, writers, artists, and other cultured folk to hang out. Along its narrow roads there are almost 300 shops.

The place still retains an atmosphere of the past, where you can get a sense of its history from its collection of mysteriously attractive ambience of its many shops, and which today has become a popular attraction for foreign visitors and tourists. Alongside shops having long histories there in recent years have been an increase of those operated by younger owners in their thirties and forties.

The many different shops located in its narrow confines give the Golden Gai a sense of mystery causing many people to wonder where they should first go. That being the case we thought it would be helpful to suggest some really delicious places that are easy to find for first-time visitors to the Golden Gai.

Sugoi! Niboshi Ramen Nagi: Original ramen flavor in a Golden Gai atmosphere!

Sugoi! Niboshi Ramen Nagi: Original ramen flavor in a Golden Gai atmosphere!

Sugoi! Niboshi Ramen Nagi is the only ramen shop in Golden Gai offering niboshi soup ramen and where fans line up for days on end to enjoy this dish. The owner had an epiphany when on a visit to Aomori, famous for niboshi, he had niboshi ramen there, a type of ramen he had never before experienced, and decided at that moment to introduce it to others. It is the dashi flavor that sets Japanese ramen apart from that in other countries. Even when served from morning the dashi is bold and flavorful. Approximately 70 grams of niboshi (about one heaping handful of dried fish) are used to make the soup for one bowl of ramen, enough to give the soup a rich, concentrated flavor that delights the palate. The niboshi used in making the soup varies depending on the season and from where it comes resulting in different flavors, so for that reason much attention is paid to from where it comes, when it was harvested, and how it is blended. As for the noodles, these are also shop originals of a medium thickness. They resemble wonton casing in that they are large, flat noodles, of which two types are used. The two noodle types give the dish a special texture.

From lunchtime and evening customers line up to enter because the shop only has about 10 seats. But the wait is not very long because the customers come and go rather quickly. The best times to visit are around 11:00 a.m. and in the afternoon between lunch and evening.

The menu consists of five types: Sugoi Niboshi Ramen (890 yen), Sugoi Niboshi Ramen Ajidama (1,000 yen), Sugoi Niboshi Ramen Tokusei (extra seaweed and pork slices) (1,200 yen), Sugoi Niboshi Ramen Golden (includes stewed pork cube) (1,400 yen), and Sugoi Niboshi Ramen Super Golden (with shoulder roast pork and stewed pork cube) (1,600 yen) which is very popular with foreign visitors. This Super Golden dish is only served at this Shinjuku Golden Gai shop and the shop in Kabukicho. The flavor of the soup can vary depending on whether it is salt or soy sauce based, the thickness of the noodles, and other things such as how oily it is. The first time you visit we suggest you follow the type recommended.

Try it once and you’ll definitely come back for more. The shop is open 24 hours a day so you can enjoy a bowl of ramen before or after you go drinking, two times in which ramen really goes well.

  • Sugoi! Niboshi Ramen Nagi
    すごい煮干ラーメン凪 新宿ゴールデン街店 本館
    • Address 〒160-0021 東京都新宿区歌舞伎町1-1-10 2階/2F, 1-1-10, Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 160-0021, Japan
    • Phone Number 03-3205-1925
    • Open: 24 hours a day
      Closed: Open daily

Bistro Pavo: Authentic bistro dishes carefully prepared by the chef, served at value prices!

Bistro Pavo: Authentic bistro dishes carefully prepared by the chef, served at value prices!

The concept is “bistro cuisine you can eat with chopsticks”, Bistro Pavo is a place where even a lady can go alone and comfortably enjoy good food and drink. There are 11 seats inside and by 7:00 p.m. it is fully booked, so it is best to make reservations in advance.

When the property on the first floor of Bar Krishna that was operating in Shinjuku Golden Gai became available, it opened there as a sister store in 2010. Paying attention to the smallest detail, the chef endeavors to create dishes that are exquisitely unique. Most amazing are the prices. Each dish, served in hearty portions, can be leisurely enjoyed whether you are alone or with a friend and the price for each is kept to a minimum. The menu is changed daily so there is always something new being offered. For that reason, the shop enjoys regulars who come daily.

We recommend the signature dish “Meibutsu! Konya mo Atsuatsu JOEnetsu no Menchikatsu” [Famous! Tonight’s Piping Hot Passionate Minced Meat Cutlet] (500 yen). Cries of delight often occur at the sight of the melted cheese oozing out when it is broken open. The tomato sauce gives it a pleasant tangy flavor that goes perfectly with it.

Here only are you able to savor “Homemade Original Sangria” (700 yen) made with seasonal fruit. A generous portion of excellent quality shank-cut roast beef with sweet-sake-apple sauce costs only 500 yen! Another popular dish is the “Meibutsu! Shinjuku de Ni-bamme ni Umai Agekkori-“ [Famous! Second-Most Delicious Fried Broccoli in Shinjuku] (300 yen) consisting of a whole broccoli deep fried. The dishes prepared are so exquisite, we highly recommend they be enjoyed by couples. The portions are reasonably priced and of a size that makes ordering dishes one at a time a key point. And they are so delicious you need only be careful not to overeat. As the entrance is slightly back from the road, be careful not to miss the sign.

  • Bistro Pavo
    • Address 〒160-0021 東京都新宿区歌舞伎町1-1-5 パレスビル1-C/Palace Bld 1-C, 1-1-5, Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 160-0021, Japan
    • Phone Number 03-6273-8282
    • Open: 5:00 p.m. ~ midnight
      Closed: Sunday

BAR ARAKU: Perfect place to enjoy pleasant exchanges whether you are solo or in a group

BAR ARAKU: Perfect place to enjoy pleasant exchanges whether you are solo or in a group

BAR ARAKU opened six years ago by the previous Australian owner who wanted to make a place where foreign visitors would feel welcome and be able to enjoy themselves.

The interior is decorated with messages written on foreign currency by visitors; when this began is uncertain, but definitely impressive. As a “Welcome to Japan” service, at BAR ARAKU there is no table charge for foreign visitors (normally there is a 700 yen charge for all the snacks you can eat). The owner himself backpacked around the world and from his experiences he wanted to “create a place where visitors to Japan could enjoy themselves and gain fond memories of their visit.” The unique character of the shop quickly gained attention on SNS and through word of mouth enabling many foreigners to learn about it.

Spacious by Golden Gai standards, the interior is able to accommodate groups of up to five people making it especially popular with travelers.

The bar offers many memorable cocktails made with Japanese sake, such as the green tea cocktail, and Japanese whiskies. Beautiful to behold is the Green Tea Fizz (800 yen) cocktail made with a green tea liqueur that is uniquely Japanese, as is the Samurai Rock, an original cocktail made with Japanese sake and lime. Light snacks, such as edamame [green soy beans], are served, so this is a good place to drop by either before or after you have had dinner.

The couple in the upper right photo are tourists from America. The bar is noted for its friendly atmosphere which has enabled many to make new friends here. It begins to get crowded from around 8:30 p.m. peaking at around 10:00 p.m. Try to visit this comfortable and relaxing space where you can meet others from other cultures for a memorable experience.

    • Address 〒160-0021 東京都新宿区歌舞伎町1-1-9 ゴールデン街 G2 2階/Goldengai G2 2F, 1-1-9, Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 160-0021, Japan
    • Phone Number 03-5272-1651
    • Open: 7:00 p.m. ~ 3:00 a.m. (weekdays and Sundays) / 7:00 p.m. ~ 4:00 a.m. (Fridays and Saturdays)
      Closed: Open daily

Dongaragasshare Honten: Japanese Izakaya-style pub with a relaxed atmosphere

Dongaragasshare Honten: Japanese Izakaya-style pub with a relaxed atmosphere

If you are looking for a place where you can enjoy more than 50 types of kushiage [deep-fried skewers], ala carte dishes that go well with sake, as well as rice dishes, in a relaxed, izakaya [Japanese-style pub], then Dongaragasshare Honten, marking its 10th year in 2018, is the place to go.

In Golden Gai where shops tend to be cozy and small, this place is comparatively larger being able to seat 22. Even so, it’s not easy to accommodate groups, so it is best to go in small numbers.

Chicken, bacon and cheese are popular skewers. The Kushiage Recommended Set of 7 (1,000 yen) is recommended. It comes with miso and cabbage (Ingredients vary according to the day. On this day they included pork, cheese and bacon, cod, octopus, eggplant, takoyaki [dumpling with octopus], and onion). The order sheets are also in English, so ordering is easy; just tick the items you want to eat. Additional single skewers cost 20 yen each. You can also request a different type of batter than the black sesame type normally used. The light, batter used in Osaka-style skewers goes especially well with Japanese sake.

Another popular dish is five pieces of shoyukoji karaage [fried chicken in koji soy sauce] (490 yen). The soy flavor gives the dish a distinctive Japanese flavor which goes especially well with beer. Chamame [a type of green soy bean] and beer is said to be very popular with foreign guests. Unlike most izakaya in which there is a table charge in the form of otoshi [side dish automatically served], there is no such charge here. Instead each guest is expected to order a drink. This is a great place to enjoy Izakaya culture with a favorite dish and drink!

Located on a corner, it is easy to find. Look for the red paper lantern and Biriken gold-colored statue outside the shop.

  • Dongaragasshare Honten
    • Address 〒160-0021 東京都新宿区歌舞伎町1-1-9/1-1-9, Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 160-0021, Japan
    • Phone Number 03-3207-3718
    • Open: Monday ~ Saturday 3:00 p.m. ~ 3:00 a.m.
      Closed: Sunday

Cha Cha Hana: Savor Kyoto Obanzai home-style dishes in a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere

Cha Cha Hana: Savor Kyoto Obanzai home-style dishes in a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere

Cha Cha Hana offers Japanese cuisine and sake in the Kyoto style known as Obanzai. Snuggled in the bustling Golden Gai district of Shinjuku’s Kabukicho, this is an oasis of tranquility. Aspiring to live up to its concept of being a flower blooming in the midst of a raucous metropolis, Cha Cha Hana – literally “tea flower” – has a subdued interior that is soothingly relaxing.

The shop is a house that had been renovated with its first and second floors offering private rooms, counter and tables that can accommodate 120 customers. There is also an annex (offering only set courses), everything evoking the subdued and sophisticated ambience of an exclusive ryotei [traditional Japanese restaurant]. At the same time, however, the prices are considerably less than those found in ryotei making Cha Cha Hana a venue to be enjoyed by young and old alike as well as couples and families.

Obanzai is the expression in Kansai describing a traditional style of home cooking handed down over centuries where the central ingredients are vegetables; in Kanto this is referred to as ozosai. This set of five obanzai dishes (1,800 yen) is recommended.

This is Takitate Donabe Gohan [freshly cooked rice in an earthenware pot] (shown in the photo is the luxurious dish including sea urchin and salmon roe, 2,800 yen) which is prepared after it has been ordered and is a signature dish on the menu. It normally takes about 40 minutes to prepare which means the freshly steamed dish is served piping hot.

Carefully selected seafood directly delivered from Tsukiji that day are offered in the delicious Sengyo no Moriawase [dish of assorted fresh fish] and other seasonal dishes ensuring that whenever you visit there will be an excellent selection of various dishes from which to choose. Foreign visitors especially enjoy the traditional ambience in which they can leisurely experience the pleasure of obanzai dishes together with fine osake.

  • Cha Cha Hana
    茶茶 花
    • Address 〒160-0021 東京都新宿区歌舞伎町1-1-1/1-1-1, Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 160-0021, Japan
    • Phone Number 03-5292-2988
    • Open: 5:00 p.m. ~ 11:30 p.m. (last order: 10:30 p.m.) ※ It is possible to enter after 10:00 p.m.

Shinjuku’s Golden Gai is lined with shops whose attractions stem from the respective owners dedication to their ideals. This article introduced only a few to provide those visiting for the first time with suggestions where they can enjoy delicious food in entertaining atmospheres. There are many others, too, and you are encouraged to visit once and experience first-hand all that is offered and perhaps you will find shops that you will want to revisit time and again.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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