Casual dinner and drinks at izakayas are typical of nights in Tokyo. This is where most locals go to unwind with friends and colleagues after a long day at work. There are literally thousands of these in Shinjuku, each having its own character and most certainly, its own band of regular patrons. But wherever you end up going, the atmosphere is always vibrant and filled with the sounds of clinking glasses, hearty cheers, and buzzing conversations.
Izakayas are the best places to get a glimpse of Japan’s drinking and social scene. If you want to be initiated, here are 10 of the best izakayas for your night outs in Shinjuku.
1. Nishiosan (西尾さん)
Mr. Nishio runs a one-man show in this very intimate izakaya. Behind the counter, he whips up everything his patrons need – including his very popular Satsuma-age (fishcake) and other Shizuoka style Oden. His place is always fully booked that you need to call in for a reservation a few months in advance! Goes to show just how popular this joint is among the locals.
2 min. walk from Tokyo Metro Shinjukusanchome Station
10 min. walk from JR Shinjuku Station
3-1-32 Shinjuku Shinjuku Tokyo
Tuesday to Saturday 5:00 PM – 12:00 AM
Closed on Sundays or Mondays
2. Uoshin (魚真 新宿店)
A small chain of izakayas with 9 shops in Tokyo, Uoshin spoils its customers with a good selection of spirits and an all-seafood menu at reasonable prices. “An izakaya and sushi restaurant that only has good fish” is their motto, and you can be assured of this promise as the chain is owned by a major seafood wholesaler in Tsukiji.
Their handwritten menu that lists the day’s specials can be intimidating for non-Japanese visitors. In which case, you can always opt for their sashimi and sushi platter options. A standard Omakase is a plate of 6 varieties, while the upgraded version is Iitoko, a plate of 7 kinds of better cuts of fish. On the other hand, the house specialty is a sushi dish called Zenbunose, which literally means “put everything on”, and it does have all the favorites on it – from tuna to salmon roe.
1 min. walk from JR Shinjuku Station East South Exit
2F 3-35-5 Shinjuku Shinjuku Tokyo
Monday to Saturday 5:00 PM – 12:30 AM
Sundays & Holidays 4:00 PM – 12:30 AM
Website: http://www.uoshins.com/index.html (Japanese only)
3. Romambou (浪曼房)
Romambou is a modern izakaya from its menu down to its interiors. Here, your choice for the night’s poison is not limited to sake. There’s wine, cocktails, and beer to go with a wide selection of Japanese dishes and international cuisine. The atmosphere is rather whimsical due to its lighting and decors, making it a fun venue for a casual night out with friends.
3 min. walk JR Shinjuku Station South Exit
B1 3-35-3 Shinjuku Shinjuku Tokyo
Tuesday to Friday 5:30 PM – 2:00 AM
Saturdays, Sundays, Holidays 4:30 PM – 2:00 AM
Closed on Mondays
Website: http://www.chirinbou.com/romanbou/r_top/romanbou_top.html (Japanese only)
4. Kanae (鼎)
This basement establishment in Shinjuku reeks of Japanese spirits and nostalgia. Since the 70’s, Kanae has been serving Tokyo’s drinking public a long list of sake options complemented by a good variety of food to go well with it. Considering that sake is the star here, a plate of sashimi to pair it with is highly recommended.
3 min. walk from Tokyo Metro Shinjukusanchome Station
3-12-12 Shinjuku Shinjuku Tokyo
Monday to Saturday 5:00 PM – 12:00 AM
Sundays, Holidays 4:30 PM – 11:00 PM
5. Tsurukame Shokodou (つるかめ食堂)
Omoide Yokocho, which means “memory lane”, is a unique place in Shinjuku that features an image of post-war Japan hidden behind and in between this area’s shiny real estate. It’s a back alley filled with tiny taverns and neon signs, once infamous for having too many drunkards pissing just anywhere. Hence it’s another nickname – Shonben Yokocho or Piss Alley.
Among this mess is Tsurukame Shokodou, an izakaya known for its down-to-earth yet unique homestyle cooking. Its menu consists of an amazing number of dishes that you won’t find anywhere else. For their specialties, try their Genkidon (bowl of beef gristle and vegetables) or the Soy-don (soy beans with beef and tofu flavored with Japanese curry). Of course, you have to pair these with a glass (or two) of beer.
Tsurukame Shokodou is curious dining in an already strange place. If you’re feeling adventurous, go here.
5 min. walk from JR Shinjuku Station
3 min. walk from Shinjukunishiguchi Station Toei Oedo Line
1-2-7 Nishishinjuku Shinjuku Tokyo
Monday to Sunday 4:00 PM – 11:00 PM
6. Saimon (犀門)
Saimon is suited for those who are looking for a night out drinking but in a more toned-down environment. Their bar list is quite extensive with hard liquor options on top of wine, sake, and beer. A good place to relax after a long day of sightseeing in the city.
3min. walk from JR Shinjuku Station South Exit
4F 3-36-15 Shinjuku Shinjuku Tokyo
Monday to Saturday 5:00 PM – 2:00 AM
Website: http://www.chirinbou.com/saimon/s_top/saimon_top.html (Japanese only)
7. Zum Bierhof (ツムビアホフ 新宿)
In case you doubt the authenticity of Zum Bierhof, their house beer is imported directly from Hofbrau, Munich’s famous 400-year-old beer hall. The atmosphere is also fashioned after Hofbrau, and as for the menu, it consists of German delicacy favorites like sausages and pretzels. Feel free to say “Prost!”
3 min. walk JR Shinjuku Station
5F 1-16-1 Kabukicho Shinjuku Tokyo
Monday to Friday 5:00 PM – 5:00 AM
Saturdays 3:00 PM – 5:00 AM
Sundays 3:00 PM – 11:30 PM
Website: http://r.gnavi.co.jp/a033608/ (Japanese Only)
8. Inshokushouten Naniyanekozen (飲食笑商何屋ねこ膳)
Eat and drink as comfortably as you would at home is Inshokushouten Naniyanekozen’s style. The mood is very homey especially when the TV inside is on as you sip your beer. They have set meals, a lot of fried dishes, and they’re open 24-hours a day. Simple and nothing fancy, but completely satisfying if your aim is just to grab a beer and a good meal.
1 min. walk from Tokyo Metro Shinjukusanchome Station
5-17-1 Shinjuku Shinjuku Tokyo
Monday to Sunday open 24 hours
Website: http://nekozen.okoshi-yasu.net/ (Japanese only)
9. Marudori Ruisuke (丸鶏 るいすけ)
Chicken with beer is always a great idea. At Marudori Ruisuke, you can have your chicken in many different ways. They are chicken specialists that have a creative menu, but of course, nothing beats the good old fried chicken. The love for it is indeed universal.
8 min. walk from Nishi-Shinjuku Station Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line
7-14-6 Nishishinjuku Shinjuku Tokyo
Monday to Sunday 5:00 PM – 12:00 AM
Closed on New Year’s Day
Website: http://r.gnavi.co.jp/gad6300/ (Japanese Only)
10. Totokichi (とときち)
Back in the day, izakaya would strictly refer to an establishment that specializes in sake. Obviously, this term has now evolved to generally denote casual drinking places, not just for sake but also including other types of alcohol, to cater to the expanding tastes of the public. However despite this change, there remains a bunch of establishments like Totokochi that stays true to the original essence of izakaya. They boast of quality sake, often having rare bottles among their selection, with a food menu specifically tailored to suit the sake well. In the case of Totokochi, they only offer high-quality fish and seafood dishes to perfectly match their premium spirits. Go here to get yourself acquainted to Japan’s most iconic drink.
3 min. walk from Tokyo Metro Shinjukusanchome Station
3-6-13 Shinjuku Shinjuku Tokyo
Monday to Sunday 11:30 AM – 3:00 PM, 5:30 PM – 10:45 PM
Website: http://www.totokichi.co.jp/ (Japanese only)
In Shinjuku, Kabukicho and Golden Gai are the one of the most famous districts famous for nightlife. There is a Kabukicho and Golden Gai night tour which you can walk around the districts with a guide. You will also get to try some Japanese local food. Check out their website for the details.Kabukicho and Shinjuku Golden Gai Night Tour (View at Voyagin)
Thumbnail image is from Flickr