If New York is the city that never sleeps, then Tokyo might be the city that never dies. Whether you're out for dinner in Shinjuku and want to throw back a few highballs at an Izakaya or you're in Roppongi and want to dance until the trains start running at the crack of dawn, understanding Tokyo nightlife can be more complicated than learning to say "cheers" in Japanese (It's kanpai, by the way). There are districts specific to clubbing—like Kabukicho, which is the biggest red-light district in Japan—and other, more low-key areas to go for a casual craft beer on a weeknight (know, however, that hipster brews aren't as popular here as they are in America).
The neighborhood of Roppongi is popular among the expat crowd and attracts some of the best DJs in the world. It's arguably the least Japanese place to go out in Tokyo, but is conversely the most cosmopolitan. Then, there's Shinjuku (the neon-bathed streets of the Kabukicho red-light district, in particular), which has dozens of karaoke bars, izakaya pubs, and hostess clubs to boot. Shinjuku is also home to Ni-chome, which is Japan's largest gay nightlife area. Shibuya is something of a midpoint between Roppongi and Shinjuku. Conveniently, many nightlife establishments are near Shibuya Station and the famous Shibuya Scramble (a pedestrian crossing). Other places to find robust nightlife include Ginza (although more famous for Michelin-star dining, art galleries, and opulent fruit emporia in the basements of department stores) and the major hotels, such as Tokyo Station Hotel, Andaz Tokyo, and Park Hyatt Tokyo (of "Lost in Translation" fame), where you can get a well-mixed martini.
Tokyo's bars are known for making some of the best drinks in the world, whether it be a locally-inspired cocktail made with sake or a classic old fashioned. If you want to go out without a particular watering hole in mind, set your GPS for Golden Gai or "Piss Alley" (Omoide Yokocho in Japanese), both in Shinjuku. Otherwise, head to:
- Jeremiah: Arguably the best cocktail bar in Tokyo, this old-timey spot in Shinjuku serves both classic drinks and innovative mixes using Japanese ingredients like matcha green tea power.
- Bar Propaganda: Come for the karaoke, stay for the drinks, pool, and darts. This popular spot in the heart of Roppongi definitely lives up to the hype.
- Rainbow Karaoke: Although neither the largest nor the most famous karaoke bar in Shibuya, this spot earns high marks for its large rooms and expansive menu.
- Oak Bar: Much like the early 20th-century facade of the Tokyo Station Hotel it's housed in, Oak Bar mixes up a concoction of tradition and modernity that's intoxicating—literally and figuratively.
- Lupin: Established in Ginza in 1928 and a favorite, throughout the ages, of Tokyo's literati, Lupin is a great place to go if you like to drink in a place with soul and a unique story.
- Another 8: Craft beer lovers will swoon at the brews on tap at Another 8 in Meguro. It's the sister institution of craft beer and sake bar Before 9 in Kyoto and offers eight rotating brews on tap in an upscale, modern (converted from an old garage) atmosphere.
If you factor in cover charges and astronomical drink prices, going to a nightclub in Tokyo is an investment in itself. The party doesn't even start until 2 or 3 a.m. at some. A surefire way to know you're going to the city's it-places is to make friends with the locals who definitely know where to go. You're pretty much guaranteed a night to remember in Tokyo's countless, over-the-top nightclubs. Start with:
- Mogambo: Famous for its high energy, full shot glasses, and enthusiastic staff, Mogambo in Roppongi is the perfect place to get the party started (and keep it going, if you wish).
- Kujira Entertainment: A Tokyo nightlife institution that blends performance with personable service, and high-tech entertainment with low-tech mixology and pounding beats, this might be the best nightclub in Shinjuku.
- WOMB: If you're a fan of EDM, house, or techno music and you're keen on dancing, then head to this popular Shibuya nightclub for some of the most infectious beats in Tokyo.
- Dragon Men: The center of Tokyo's gay scene, this is a great place to start if you're looking for an LGBTQ night out and don't know where to begin. Conveniently, many other top Tokyo gay bars and clubs (mostly concentrated in the Ni-chome neighborhood) are in the area, too.
- A-Life: One of the most popular spots in Roppongi is this three-story dance club, but unlike other bars in the area, this one doesn't play underground EDM and other unfamiliar tunes all night. Cheesy bangers and pop songs that everyone knows are more A-Life's style (oh yeah, and the drinks are cheap, comparatively).
Going out in Tokyo doesn't have to be a choice between attending EDM ragers or sitting at the queitest bar in town. Live music venues provide the perfect middle ground for folks who want to have fun, but don't want to get too crazy. Tokyo is no Nashville or Austin, but it certainly has enough live music venues to keep you busy during your holiday. Head to the music district of Shimokitazawa, which has something for lovers of jazz, punk, pop, indie, and metal alike. Don't miss:
- World Kitchen Baobab: As its name suggests, this eccentric concert bar in Kichijoji celebrates the many cultures, cuisines, and musical genres of the world. Here, you can enjoy a Caribbean, African, or South American dish while watching Japanese artists sing reggae on any given day.
- BAUHAUS: Offering a classic rock and roll fix right in the heart of Roppongi, the BAUHAUS house band cranks out covers of Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Queen, and Nirvana on the daily.
- Shelter: While you're in the Shimokitazawa neighborhood, be sure to stop by Shelter, an intimate live music bar that often hosts overseas acts.
- The Ruby Room: There's a reason this little Shibuya bar that holds only about 150 people has been called the epicenter of Tokyo's indie music scene. It's certainly among the most popular in the city. On some nights, an acoustic set will make the vibe relaxed and on others, a more fast-paced act will make it more clubby. Come on Tuesdays to watch the locals share an open mic.
Any foodie traveler will tell you that Tokyo is top-notch when it comes to urban culinary scenes and, thankfully for you and your booze-filled belly, many kitchens don't close until the wee hours of the morning. 24-hour restaurants are the norm. Late-night eats in Tokyo could warrant a food tour of their own. You'll have no shortage of ramen, udon, Chinese dumplings, seafood, and sushi (obviously) to choose from. Some are available in the popular chain eateries (Sushi Zanmai, Sukiya, even Burger King is open until 5 a.m.) while others are housed in the most unassuming holes in the walls. It would be wise to plan your post-bar bites in advance. Don't miss:
- Uniholic: Speaking of seafood: If you're in the mood for sea urchin after painting Roppongi red, then end your night at Uniholic, a convenient one mile from Roppongi Station (for the ride home, perhaps?). Partiers will be treated to tons of seafood and sashimi options, a full bar, and an unmatched night view of Roppongi from the 11th floor. It's open until 5 a.m.
- Ichiran Ramen: You can't come to Tokyo and not order noodles from this famous ramen shop, so you might as well squeeze it in after a night of drinking, seeing as it's open 24 hours. It has two locations, Shibuya and Roppongi. The Roppongi location closes at 6 a.m.
- Ramen Nagi: Housed in the heart of Golden Gai (among a dozen other locations throughout the city), this beloved 24-hour haunt has a ramen dish for every palette, whether simple or sophisticated.
The thought of consuming caffeine late at night is not one that is widely accepted, but in this up-all-the-time kind of city, it's commonplace. Like its restaurants, countless coffeeshops in Tokyo are open around the clock, which makes them perfect pit-stops between your final cocktail and bed (supposedly). It's long been thought that coffee can help sober a person up, anyway. These chilled-out cafés are good for a wind-down after the club. Rest assured you'll find plenty of other post-bar revelers there drunkenly sipping lattes and the like, too.
- Edinburgh: Folks who've been partying in Golden Gai can pop over to Edinburgh (open 24 hours on the outskirts of Kabukicho) for a late-night pot of Joe.
- Café Miyama: A four-minute walk from Shibuya Station is Café Miyama, where you can order your cuppa with a sweet because what is better drunk food than a decadent pastry?
- Unir Akasaka: Perched on the ground floor of the aptly-named Hotel Innsomnia Akasaka is an even sleeker coffeeshop. This one is more modern than it is quirky and almost guaranteed to be quiet, whereas the ones in Roppongi (the Starbucks at the bottom of the hill, for example) can possess an afterparty sort of atmosphere.
Tips for Going Out in Tokyo
- As with most nightlife districts in any city, Tokyo's—Shinjuku (especially Kabukicho), Shibuya, and Roppongi, in particular—have higher crime rates than other areas.
- Pickpocketing happens most on public transportation near doorways.
- Some places have hidden fees, which are, most commonly, otooshi (an automatic seating charge when ordering food), sekiryo (another seating charge), and nyujoryo (an entrance fee).
- To get the most bang for your buck, look for the labels nomihodai (all you can drink) and tabenomihodai (all you can eat and drink).
- Japanese laws are generally stricter than those in some Western countries, with a few exceptions (you can drink on the streets, for example).
- Participating in illegal activity in Tokyo can lead to deportation, so break the rules at your own risk.
- Tokyo's gay nightlife scene is concentrated primarily in Shinjuku's Ni-chome district. Café Lavandería, Campy!, and Eagle Tokyo are among the most tourist-friendly.