Golden Gai: Small colorful streets filled with bars from Tokyo’s past

If you ask for suggestions on where to go for a fun night out in Tokyo, it’s likely that many people will tell you to head to Golden Gai in Shinjuku. This well-known area of Tokyo is famous for its nightlife. You’ll find 6 parallel alleyways with tiny bars crammed everywhere (there’s said to be over 200 bars). Many tourists come here for a bit of bar hopping (if you manage to find a seat), though there are a handful of bars that cater to a “Japanese-speaking only” crowd. While I can’t say I loved Golden Gai, I thought it was a unique experience that is worth checking out.

Vibe around Golden Gai

We went to Golden Gai on a Saturday and, at first, it seemed pretty quiet. There weren’t as many people milling about the alleyways as I had imagined. However, just about every single bar that I walked by was completely packed. The bars in Golden Gai can only comfortably seat about 8 – 10 people, so it’s best to get there early if you wanted to go to a specific bar or if you’re with a group of 3 or more people. The majority of people in Golden Gai appeared to be tourists looking for a fun night of drinking far too much sake while having good conversations with friends and strangers, and taking in a bit of Tokyo’s past.

How to know which bar to go into

I found walking through Golden Gai to be a bit overwhelming, since it can be difficult to decide which bar to go into. Many bars have a cover charge of around ¥600 – ¥1000, just keep your eyes peeled for the signs outside that usually say if there is a cover charge or not. Any bar that has English signage is a safe bet to go into, but there were a few bars that had signs saying they only wanted Japanese-speaking people to enter their bar. Since we were there quite late, most of the bars were already packed, but we managed to find one that only had three other people in it and didn’t have a cover charge. Drink prices vary, but I ordered sake (the glass was massive) for ¥900. Just don’t expect any menu with prices at the bars. You simply order and hope that it doesn’t cost a fortune when you ask for the bill.

Overall thoughts on Golden Gai

My feelings on Golden Gai are mixed. On one hand, I would recommend visiting the area because it’s a unique and historical part of Tokyo with plenty of character. On the other hand, I wasn’t as impressed as I thought I was going to be. I didn’t like how most bars had a cover charge, that certain bars wouldn’t admit non-Japanese speakers, and how smoking was allowed inside the bars. Regardless, I still think it’s worthwhile to check out Golden Gai for yourself if you haven’t already!

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