Some of my favourite moments in Tokyo were when I found myself sitting in small bar-restaurants soaking up the local beer, food and culture. And just to confirm the stereotype, yes these places are full of men in business suits. After sampling a few in the downtown area, I learned of a fabled little shanty-town full of them, known as the Golden Gai district. Despite the heavens pouring down on me, I persisted through a variety of well-meaning but inherently bad directions until I found a soul who was kind enough to walk with me for 10 minutes in the rain to bring me to my mecca. Bless his socks.
The Golden Gai is a small district, perhaps no larger than half a football field, which is a network of thin alleys populated by ~200 tiny bars. This is where I fell in love with Tokyo. It’s a run-down but arty neighbourhood stuck between highrises and modern developments. Apparently it used to be a haven for prostitution but is now home to these many small bars which attract artists and famous folk. Each bar generally has a theme, can serve maybe as few as 6 patrons at a time, and is manned by a lone, interesting bartender with a passion for socialising with strangers.
I walked past many small bars that appeared to be closed, for they were empty and dark, but apparently I should have just walked in and become their first customer. The one that I did end up walking into had 2 other random tourists so I felt safe and normal. The room was just small enough to fit one guy behind a tiny bar and 6 crammed stools for us to sit on. I once rented a bedroom in London that was bigger than this room. All around this tiny, dark hovel was random shelves and surfaces crammed with musical trinkets and a menagerie of alcoholic beverages. The barman served complimentary little soups and snacks that he made on the spot with ingredients gathered from nooks and crannies about him. He was well prepared to suggest or make any drink we could think of.
We soon had 1 bartender and 6 random patrons in that small room, all attempting to communicate questions to each other and share stories about where we came from and what we’d seen. The intimate setting plus the willingness of the bartender to translate provided a really fun evening. The bartender himself was a chilled guy named Yugo who had a casual side-job during the day and ran his small pub every single night from 10pm to 5am. I think he really just had loved meeting new people and sharing stories. Thus my short trip to Tokyo ended with a truly Golden Gai time.
A piccy blog about GG – http://www.adventurouskate.com/golden-gai-tokyos-coolest-bar-neighborhood/
An article about GG – http://www.unmissabletokyo.com/golden-gai