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|TOKYO: Bars, Cabarets, Clubs, Discos & Karaoke
Recommended by Tokyo Journal, Badi, and Barazoku.
TOKYO -- area code (81-3)
With the real estate and bar business slump, due to Japan's long economic recession combined with the Internet's popularity for cheap networking, prices haven't really risen in more than a decade. A night out in Tokyo has deflated down to earth from the champagne stratosphere, with drinks now averaging about US$5. Also, there is no tipping or added taxes on bar bills which means Tokyo is an astonishing value for travelers!
The following venues are friendly towards visitors, although the smaller bars will prefer that you match the "type" they specialize in (many bars have limited seating and so try to attract the crowd they specialize in). There are several sorts of systems in play these days. Traditional bars include a tasty snack, sometimes cooked on the spot, along with the first drink and so prices are a bit higher to start off. Although bar-hoppers may opt to avoid traditional bars, these venues provide the extra service of social lubrication and really should be enjoyed, at least once, by visitors. Traditional places cater to leisurely conversations with the Masta (Master), and his bar staff who will politely quiz you and then introduce you to other customers they feel are a good match for a chat. This can take some time, so relax and have fun. The best traditional bars reflect the sparkling personalities of owners who are highly skilled in entertaining their customers. Some bars include a flat "table charge" that usually comes with an unthrilling dish of standard bar munchies. Many clubs have now switched to the simpler "shot" system of paying per drink purchased, although cover charges may go into effect on holidays and for special events. Pay as you go at these type of bars. Traditional bars may run tabs until you ask for the bill.
Monthly events like Shangri-la, Red (every 2nd Sat) and The Ring (every 4th Sat) have huge parties that attract the circuit crowd. Flyers for upcoming events along with maps to the location (usually the Ware House in Azabu Juban) can be found at gay establishments.
Here's a bit of fellowship from The Ring:
Most bars open a couple hours after people have gotten off work (about 8pm), although there are some early birds listed below.
GATE Shibuya Tokyo UTOPIA VERIFIED JAN 2014
Social Dogenzaka bldg B1, 1-14-9, Dogenzaka, Shibuya, Utopia Map, 6416-4747, email. International gay bar for bears and their friends, located in this well known fashion and young culture center. Experience their glamorous, upscale environment, friendly staff and good music. They welcome customers from all over the world, not only bear types. Utopia Member Discount
4/F Yoshino Bld, 17-10 Sakurayaoka-cho, Shibuya, 3462-9200, email. A few blocks up the hill behind Shibuya Station (see map on their website), in the building next to Tumble♂bug. This traditional gay bar is a nice change from Ni-Chome for men in their 20s and 30s. Master, Toshi, helms his casual bar with the bright colors of tropical fish (which you can see swimming in various containers) and themed with Chinese pop flavors, from fung shui calligraphy along the top of the walls to the dragon kite hanging from the ceiling. There is a table charge that includes a snack (we had an artistic arrangement of delicious fresh fruits). The staff and customers are cute and often take holiday trips together (photo albums are on hand). If you are a young gay man who knows a little Japanese you may just become a regular! Open Nightly.
4/F Shimizu Bld, 2-7-4 Dogenzaka, email. Gay-owned gay bar, close to Shibuya Station and easy to find. Cozy, relaxed and spacious, with good drinks, food and cigars. Friendly, good-looking staff and crowd. Men only.
Tumble♂bug UTOPIAN VERIFIED DEC 2013
3/F Shibuya Johnson Bld (building is adjacent to [kéivi!]), 17-12 Sakurayaokacho, Shibuya, 3464-3884. Master, Hiroki, is a fan of Thailand, so his bar's design is tropical modern with decor from Southeast Asia. Patrons are in their 30s. If you are Thai you'll be a big hit here, but international men are also welcome. Open daily from 7pm. Men-only except Wed night when women with a gay male friend are welcome.
Comments from Utopians:
"Seat charge is Y$600, set menu is Y$1,800." -- tokyofit, Dec 30, 2013
SHINJUKU NI-CHOME, SAN-CHOME
The majority of foreigner-friendly bars are shuffled into the hundreds of nightclubs packed into Shinjuku Ni-Chome, a tiny sub-district between BYGS Building (at the Shinjuku Sanchome Subway Station Exit C8) and Shinjuku Gyoemmae Subway Station a few blocks further east. While just a gaudy speck on the hemline of Tokyo's neon kimono, Ni-Chome is the main hub of Tokyo's gay scene. A carnival of shadows from dusk till dawn, here you will find 24-hour love motels, fetish mix boxes (no frills sex spaces), noodle dens and gay pride boutiques -- all catering to the parade of intoxicated salarymen, transgender hostesses, gangster pimps, Sumo wrestlers, public masturbators and sexual samurai of every clan. By day, its Buddhist graveyards are haunted by stumbling zombies of last night's overindulgences and serenaded by the melancholy caws of giant black crows which nest in the ancient pines of nearby Gyoen-mae Park. Yukio Mishima's favorite dive, The New Sazae, is still doing business here, as is a century-old, two-story wooden brothel.
Backlit signs scramble from the street to the sky, like chapter headings of Ni-Chome's tawdry autobiography:
Shifty Air, Transistor Glamour, Bar Yes/No, Hotel Nuts, Potato Ex Club, Baby Satan, Sex Blond, G. Shower, Morning Tissue, Velvet Overhigh'm, Glans Freak, and (simply) Dick.
The easiest way to get to the gay area is to take the underground walkway from Shinjuku Station's East Exit (down one floor after the train exit ticket machines) or the Shinjuku Sanchome Subway Station (Marunouichi Line) to Exit C5, C7, or C8 (see map):
Advocates Café (mixed) UTOPIA VISITED SEP 2013
1/F Dai-7 Tenka Bld, 2-18-1, Shinjuku Ni-Chome, Utopia Map, 3358-3988. Open-air gay café right on the main drag (this corner gets very crowded on weekend evenings, spilling out into the street). At the center of this universe of arty trendsetters is Mitsutaka, gymnast and former Japanese trampoline champion, whose series of out and proud nude athletic photos shot at the beach made him a role model for a new generation of J queers. Indoor and outdoor seating. International crowd of gays, lesbians and friendly straights. The best location in Ni-Chome to see and be seen. Open nightly.
The Annex UTOPIA VISITED SEP 2012
1/F Futami Bld, 2-14-11 Shinjuku Ni-Chome, Utopia Map, 3356-5029. Same owners as Arty Farty and when you get your hand stamped at Arty Farty you can move freely between the two bars during parties. Long bar and dim cruise space at the rear. 9pm-midnight is the Djs dance set and at midnight they start to take requests (the timing is opposite at Arty Farty). The crowd is mostly late 20s to mid-30s, but, like many Toyko bars these days, everyone is welcomed without attitude.
Arty Farty UTOPIA VISITED SEP 2012
2/F 33 Kyutei Bld, 2-11-7 Shinjuku Ni-Chome, Utopia Map, 5362-9720. New location for this long-time favorite watering hole. The club is divided into two sections, half taken up by a large central U-shaped bar and the other half is an open space for cruising and dancing. Lockers are available for bags and coats. Although the staff are Japanese-speaking there is very good English on signage and drink menus. Monthly special parties and live DJs on hand. 9pm-midnight is "request time" and at midnight the dance set begins (the timing is opposite at The Annex). The crowd is mostly late 20s to mid-30s, but, like many Toyko bars these days, everyone is welcomed without attitude. They also own the nearby bar, The Annex, and when you get your hand stamped at Arty Farty you can move freely between the two bars during parties. Drinks are very reasonably priced. Pay as you order and please bring your plastic cup to the bar for mixed drink re-fills. We still miss the original Santa Fe style club (and the bartenders who wore only cowboy hats and bandanas on anniversary nights).
Base UTOPIA VISITED SEP 2012
Utopia Map, 3356-1907. Master: Toshi. A warm den for 25-35yo bears. Please have facial hair. Crew cuts and chubbiness are a plus. Muscled sportsmen optional.
DNA UTOPIA VISITED SEP 2012
1/F Musasino Bld, 2-13-14 Chinjuku Ni-Chome, Utopia Map, 3341-4445. Friendly café bar with shop right on the main drag. Opens earlier than most clubs, so it is one of a few places to start off an evening in Ni-Chome.
Dragon Men UTOPIAN VERIFIED JAN 2014, UTOPIA VISITED SEP 2013
1/F Stork Nagasaki, 2-11-4 Shinjuku Ni-Chome, Utopia Map, 3341-0606, email. Occupying a double-wide space, with huge doors that can roll open during summer. Contemporary design with a very clever chat nook fronted by a clear plexi-screen to invisibly dampen the music for conversation without reducing the cruise factor. Indoor and outdoor seating. Lattés, capuccinos and espressos on the terrace. Three-hour-long Happy Hour from 6-9pm nightly. Very affordable prices. Don't let the name fool you: "All sexualities are welcome," declares Satoshi, "including dykes." Open Sun-Thu 6pm-3am and Fri, Sat and nights preceeding holidays from 6pm-5am.
Comments from Utopians:
"Dragon Men's bartender couldn't even make a simple Jack and Coke. When I returned my drink he admitted that it was terrible. I had to wait almost five minutes for my change. I honestly wouldn't come back here." -- Dominic, Jan 25, 2014
GB UTOPIA VISITED SEP 2013
B/F Shinjuku Plaza Bld, 2-12-13 Shinjuku Ni-Chome, Utopia Map, 3352-8972. Ever-popular video bar for foreigners and Japanese who like them. Super-packed on weekends and very smoky. Large, comfortable bar with excellent cruise vantage in every direction. Attracts professionals, artists, expats and the gaisen fringe, in their mid 20s-40s.
Kinsmen UTOPIA VISITED SEP 2012
2/F 2-18-5 Shinjuku Ni-Chome, Utopia Map, 3354-4949, email. This long-established gay bar is under new management that has maintained its elegant and cozy atmosphere catering to an upscale, trendy, gay and lesbian crowd. Owner, Nori, and manager, Ebi, make sure that everyone is comfortable and relaxed. Open Sun and week nights from 7pm-1am, Fri and Sat from 7pm-3am. Closed Mon.
Ku Su O UTOPIA VISITED SEP 2012
Utopia Map, 3354-5050. This large (by Japanese standards) second floor bar has mostly Japanese patrons, 20s-40s, but welcomes visitors. Very active in the Tokyo pride events and the Ni-Chome gay community.
Monsoon UTOPIA VISITED SEP 2012
Utopia Map. This small bar on 6/F is a funky hang-out for 20-something queers and their friends. Young visitors are welcome.
Palolo UTOPIA VERIFIED MAY 2012
2-11-10 Shinjyuku Ni-chome, Utopia Map, 3226-6369, email. Classic Japanese style gay bar (compulsory snack served with first drink) in the heart of Ni-chome's gay scene. Casual, come-as-you-are place where you can unwind after work or have some happy encounters with new friends. Please call them if you have any trouble locating the place.
Tac's Knot UTOPIA VISITED SEP 2012
2/F, 3-11-12 #202 Shinjuku San-Chome, Utopia Map, 3341-9404. In business for over 25 years. Gay art shows, friendly and relaxed atmosphere. The owner is intellectual and writes for gay publications on social issues that effect the community. This traditional bar attracts culture fans including those that love the arts and classical music. Open daily 8pm-2am.
From Dragon Men, walk in the direction away from Shinjuku Station through two intersections. Usagi should be on 5/F on your left. Open after 9pm. This smoke-free bar is spacious and clean. Warm lighting and homey interior design. The friendly welcomes non-Japanese visitors. Being located in Nichome, Usagi attracts a large gay crowd. The Japanese and English menu offers a wide range of alcoholic and regular drinks at reasonable prices.
4F 7-11-16 Nishi-Shinjuku, 03-3363-2544, email. The name means "blue sky of Thailand" and the interior is designed as a moon in a lake. They promise to entertain you with Asian comfort, in a gentle and relaxed atmosphere. Nearby are many skyscrapers, famous hotels, big department stores, electric gadget shops and cruising spots.
Bar kabuto UTOPIA VERIFIED DEC 2013
4/F 7-44-1 TK Kamata Bld, Nishikamata Ota-ku, 5703-2110, email. From JR Kamata Station, take the west entrance and cross the circle area in front of the station to the alley between the cigarette shop and Katsuya tonkatsu restaurant. Keep going three blocks and you should see a yellow building on your left (see Utopia Map). Kabuto is located on 4/F there. Friendly neighborhood men-only gay bar. Owned by former airline cabin crew. Most customers speak or understand some English. Enjoy the neighborhood bar atmosphere with the English speaking master. Experience Japanese style service and hospitality. Call if you need help finding them. Utopia Member Discount
3/F Jyu Go Bld, 4-18-4 Shimbashi, Iruken (on an obscure block behind the Shinbashi station), 03-3437-3227. The hosts are Kenji and Hiro. They speak a little English and make a great yakisoba. The area caters to the after work crowd.
6/F Ginza Bld, 1-11-5 Shimbashi, Minato-ku, 03-3289-8558. It's in an obscure building on the top floor (you take a lift to 5/F and walk up stairs to 6/F). Lively karaoke bar with quite a few tables and very friendly people. Plus, a cool outdoor patio area to take in the lights of the city. A sign says Members Only but if you are reading this, you are a member.
SHINJUKU NI-CHOME, SAN-CHOME
Fuji UTOPIA VISITED SEP 2013
B/F Saint Four Bld #B104 (see map), 2-12-16 Shinjuku Ni-Chome, Utopia Map, 3354-2707. Cozy bar for mature gaijin (foreigners) and gaisen (foreigner chasers). Gay and lesbian-friendly. Attracts many Filipino singers who live in Tokyo.
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Flower power at Pink Dot Singapore 2014 (photo by Lim Yew Kuan).