The Best Bars in Shinjuku, Tokyo

From cosy izakaya pubs to fancy cocktail lounges, Shinjuku has it all
From cosy izakaya pubs to fancy cocktail lounges, Shinjuku has it all | © Andriy Blokhin / Alamy Stock Photo
Kaitlyn McInnis

Whether you’re ordering a highball fifty storeys above the city or knocking back a pint of Sapporo in an otherworldly alleyway, Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighbourhood is packed with atmospheric sophisticated and humble drink dens.

A walk through Golden Gai or Memory Lane (otherwise known as Omoide Yokochō) pretty much promises a great night, but we’ve collected some of our favourite watering holes to help create a winning bar-hopping itinerary. Read on for our picks for the best bars in Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighbourhood – whatever your poison of preference, this party-focused prefecture has you covered.

Shinjuku is the perfect neighbourhood to both start and end your evening’s antics
Whether you’re looking for a cosy tachinomi (standing bar) or a super-cool speakeasy, let this guide help you find your dream drinking den

1. Ben Fiddich for off-the-cuff cocktails in an alchemist’s lair

Bar, Japanese, Snacks

Craft cocktail aficionados flock to Ben Fiddich for its herbal infusions, house-made liquor and keen attention to detail. In fact, the groundbreaking bar is not only one of the top cocktail bars in Tokyo, but in the entire world. The no-menu watering hole serves up different off-the-cuff cocktails each night – with whisky, gin, absinthe or amaro – in what can only be described as an alchemist’s lair.

2. Ascend to New York Bar for cocktails in the sky

Bar, Japanese, Snacks

After making your way up to the 52nd floor venue, you’ll probably be hit with a sense of déjà vu; you’ve seen this bar before – on the big screen. Nearly half of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation (2003) was filmed in the Park Hyatt Tokyo, with many scenes taking place in its cosmopolitan New York Bar, but its jet-setting bragging rights are only part of the appeal. Featuring floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto every corner of Tokyo’s dramatic skyline below, a live jazz band, premium whiskies and the largest selection of American wines in Japan, this glitzy bar in the sky is well worth the visit.

3. The Open Book for speakeasy drinks like a local

Bar, Japanese

Tucked quietly behind a sliding wooden door, The Open Book is essentially an unpretentious speakeasy for lovers of literature. Run by the grandson of award-winning novelist Komimasa Tanaka, whose collection of literature fills the shelves here, this welcoming nook of a bar fits a very small handful of patrons at a time. Don’t expect a menu upon arrival; the house speciality is a tasty lemon sour made from shōchū (a Japanese spirit typically distilled from rice or sweet potatoes), soda water and fresh lemon juice.

4. Duck into dystopian Albatross for hand-crafted spicy gin highballs

Bar, Restaurant, Pub Grub

Walking into Albatross feels something akin to a real-life video game dystopia. The teeny Baroque-era bar is adorned with over-the-top chandeliers much too large for the small space and taxidermied deer busts on its ruby-red walls. Aside from the wildly eclectic decor, Albatross does have a mean selection of cocktails and house-infused spirits, including spicy gin highballs.

5. Café Lavandería for off-beat conversations and cheap brews

Bar, Cafe, Japanese, Snacks

If cheap and quirky is what you’re after, look no further than Café Lavandería. From the outside, this neighbourhood haunt looks like your average coffee shop, but step inside and you’re suddenly greeted by a cuddle puddle of live-in tabby cats, a wall of books that guests are invited to browse and a healthy rotation of live music and political talks to punctuate sips of moderately priced Spanish and Japanese beers, coffees and soft drinks.

6. Zoetrope for whisky connoisseurs

Bar, Japanese

Nestled into a Shinjuku backstreet, Zoetrope is equal parts cosy and sophisticated, with a whisky selection to rival the best bars in Scotland – we’re talking 300 bottles of hard-to-find spirits and counting. The intimate drink den boasts just three tables and six bar seats, which ensures a personalised experience made for reclining with a decent dram. Designed by the late Takeo Kimura, Zoetrope features silent black-and-white films set to a rotating playlist of alternative rock tunes that further aid in the bar’s moody atmosphere.

7. 8bit Café for very good drinks with a dash of video game nostalgia

Bar, Cafe, Pub Grub

8 Bit
Courtesy of 8bit Café
8bit Café is essentially what your middle school dreams were made of – but all grown up. The video game bar is packed with early ’90s nostalgia – from Super Mario stuffies to The Legend of Zelda figurines. All the cocktails are named after your favourite old-school video game characters – like the Princess Peach Temptation and the Puyo Puyo. With drink in hand, guests are invited to post up at a gaming console arcade cabinet and play the night away or just enjoy the gloriously nerdy, nostalgic atmosphere.

8. Brooklyn Parlor for both morning coffee and evening cocktails

Cafe, Restaurant, Japanese

Trendy coffee shop by day, elegant bar and eatery by night, this Tokyo hotspot feels decidedly like a modern co-working space, but with better beer. As the sun sets on Shinjuku, this New York-inspired gastropub heats up – expect nightly DJ performances (usually techno or house), a young and lively crowd and a decent selection of American-inspired fare like cheeseburgers and waffles – both of which go equally well with a cold beer.

9. Channel your inner Paul Newman at Bar Sting

Bar, Japanese, Snacks

Somewhere between Art Deco and dive bar, there’s Sting. Named after George Roy Hill’s classic heist 1973 film, this cosy Shinjuku bar whisks you back to the ’30s in every way possible – from the decor to the cocktails, but especially the well-crafted martinis. This beloved bar caters to a healthy mix of businessmen and students thanks to its convenient location directly above Shinjuku-Sanchōme station.

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