Kampai! Tokyo's coolest bars

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Whatever your tipple of choice or preferred drinking establishment, Tokyo offers a plethora of bars to suit any fancy. Jane Kitagawa samples some of the best.

The quintessential Japanese experience

Bar hoppers suffering from 'been there done that' hidden laneway bar ennui are advised to head to Shinjuku's Memory Lane ('Omoide Yokocho') aka Piss Alley ('Shonben Yokocho') or Golden Gai, Shibuya's Drunkard's Alley ('Nonbei Yokocho') and Kichijoji's Harmonica Alley ('Harmonica Yokocho').

Offering nostalgic glimpses into old school Japanese drinking culture, the cash-only bars and yakitori joints crowding these ramshackle alleyways attract all types.

Drinks are usually limited to beer, sake and shochu, and some establishments – particularly those in Golden Gai and Drunkard's Alley – incur seating charges. Piss Alley's Albatross remains perennially popular due to its rooftop seating which needs to be booked in summer. Surrounded by glitz and neon, it's a Bladerunner experience indeed.

Indie cool and like-minded people

Music-lovers are no doubt aware of Japan's Fuji Rock and Summer Sonic Festivals, but where can one drink and mingle with like-minded souls in the meantime?

Koenji, just west of Shinjuku on the Chuo/Chuo-Sobu lines, is renowned for its healthy music scene and provides plenty of bars to sit and groove at. Local bars One and The Connection both offer standard drinks, food and snacks and the occasional live or DJ event.

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The Connection also doubles as a record store; what you save on the cheap drinks can then be spent on vinyl. The newly opened bar/club Echo Shibuya runs a similar vibe, with links to Japanese rock girl trio Nisennenmondai, Warszawa Records and booking agencies responsible for bringing other uber-cool musicians to Japan.

OTT excess, glitz and glamour

Tokyo has long-boasted a bar and club connection catering almost specifically to the fashion, model and nightlife crowd.

Named after he of New York millionaire developer fame, Shibuya's Trump House and Trump Room bars set the new decade's standards for partying in opulence at somewhat post-recession friendly prices.

Decoration is deliberately luxurious and lavish with disco balls, crystal chandeliers, stag heads and Franco Cozzo-style rococo mirrors all competing for wall and ceiling space.

While it's almost impossible to not be bedazzled by these surroundings, the clubbing costumes favoured by some of Trump's partying clientele provide a voyeuristic distraction. Befitting venues of this calibre, team Trump strives to keep up with the latest trends in DJs, tracks and cocktails.

A local that you can almost call your own

Sometimes you just want a place to drink, relax and get to know the locals. A bar where conversation flows, staff know everyone by name and first timers are warmly welcomed.

Kichijoji's eponymously named Mikorin hasn't earned its reputation as a community-friendly bar for nothing. Exuding a vibe akin to that of an informal dinner party between friends, Mikorin attracts a diverse clientele including creatives, uni students, hospitality workers, salarymen and retirees.

Tipples include Yebisu beer on tap, a small but considered wine selection and the usual spirits. Such is the popularity of this place that it's not uncommon to arrive with a patron's birthday in swing with flashing cameras, free flowing cava and mad bonhomie.

Despite its tiny eight-seat capacity, French and English speaking owner Mikorin has truly created a bar with an oversized heart.

Getting there

Shinjuku Memory Lane aka Piss Alley:

1-2 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku Most bars open 7pm onwards, some closed Sundays, Mondays. Access 2 min. walk from JR Shinjuku station west exit, 1 min. walk from Toei Oedo line Shinjuku station exit B16

Albatross:

1-2-11 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku (03-3342-5758) Open 5pm-2am daily. Access: as above.

Golden Gai:

1-1 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku Most bars open 7pm onwards, some closed Sundays, Mondays. Access: 3 min. walk from subway Marunouchi line Shinjuku San-chome station exits B6, B7, 3 min. walk from Toei Shinjuku line Shinjuku San-chome station exit 1, 5 min. walk from JR Shinjuku station east exit

Shibuya Nonbei Yokocho Drunkard Alley:

1-25 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku Most bars open 7pm onwards, some closed Sundays. Access: 1 min walk from JR Shibuya station, Hachiko exit

Kichijoji Harmonica Yokocho:

1-1 Kichijoji honcho, Musashino-shi Most bars open 7pm onwards. Access: 1 min walk from Kichijoji station, JR and Keio Inokashira lines, north exit

One Koenji:

Daihachi Nitto Bldg. B1, 3-48-6 Minami Koenji, Suginami-ku (03-3315-0710) Open from 7pm onwards. Access: 7 minute walk from JR Koenji Station Chuo line, south exit

The Connection:

Chugin Koenji Mansion B1, 4-23-4 Minami Koenji, Suginami-ku (03-3312-8688) Open from 6pm daily. Access: 3 minute walk from JR Koenji Station Chuo line, south exit

Echo Shibuya:

2F-C, Kusuhara Bldg. 33-13, Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku (no phone) Open 8pm - late. Access: 5 min walk from JR Shibuya Station, Hachiko exit

Trump House:

1-6-5 Hagi Bld. B1F, 2F, Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku (03-6809-0850) Open 10pm - late. Access: 5 min walk from JR Shibuya Station, Hachiko exit

Trump Room:

Hoshi Building, 4F, 1-12-14 Jinnan, Shibuya-ku (03-3770-2325) Open 10pm - late. Access: 5 min walk from JR Shibuya Station, Hachiko exit

Mikorin:

103 Flat K 1-25-2 Kichijojihonco, Musashino-shi (0422-20-2166) Open 5:30pm - midnight, closed Thursdays. Access: 3 min walk from Kichijoji station, JR and Keio Inokashira lines, north exit

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