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Bar Zingaro2/3
Photo: Ikki Ogata
Artbar Tokyo3/3

Best art bars in Tokyo

These bars and restaurants also double up as a gallery of sorts, serving up cool art alongside food and drinks

By Kaila Imada
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Tokyo's vibrant drinking scene has lots to offer. Besides being home to some of the Asia's best bars, it also has niche drinking dens that are one of a kind – from record shops with bars to those with DJ sets and even bars for geeks.

However, it’s fair to say that most bars are more intoxicating than inspiring. These creative spaces, on the other hand, combine the joy of drinking with a little art appreciation. Where else in Tokyo can you admire great works of art while downing a drink or two? Be it a paint class where a little wine can spark your imagination, or just a well-designed space featuring installations or today's most intriguing up-and-coming local artists, Tokyo really has a bar for everything. 

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Art night out

Artbar Tokyo

Things to do Classes and workshops Daikanyama

Bottomless wine might not sound conducive to painting with a steady hand, but the classes at this friendly art studio, where good vibes and great company help you embrace your creativity, the wine is just a liquid motivation to let your creative juices flow.

You don’t need to be an artist to get stuck in, although you’ll need to prepare to get a bit messy: classes range from paint-pouring and Jackson Pollock-style splash painting to something rather more refined – you might find yourself attempting to recreate Van Gogh’s and Monet’s iconic works. If starry nights or water lilies aren’t your bag, look out for the odd seasonal classes here, such as sakura-themed painting sessions in spring.

Classes are held in English and Japanese on weekdays from 7pm, and there are several sessions at weekends. The monthly class schedules are on the website.

Bar Zingaro
Bar Zingaro
Ikki Ogata

Bar Zingaro

Bars and pubs Nakano

You’re unlikely to be disappointed by the Nakano café-bar created by Takashi Murakami, the contemporary artist behind the Superflat movement. His quirky, character-driven art is used liberally here: it appears on the walls, on the flower-embossed pancakes and burgers, and on the oversized Kaikai plushie and giant flower cushions.

Although Bar Zingaro closes earlier than most bars, you could do worse than kick off a night out with its marvellously boozy milkshake. For an extra dose of Tokyo pop-culture Murakami-style, take a stroll around as the artist has a few other projects hidden throughout Nakano Broadway, including a vending machine and a retail shop where you can purchase his plush toys and merchandise.

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Pavilion

Restaurants Nakameguro

Within moments of arriving at this artsy bar-restaurant under the Nakameguro Station train tracks, you’ll notice that it likes to do things a bit differently. Around the back of the restaurant you’ll find a telephone booth – make a call and you’ll be guided into a stunning hall of glowing pink lights (by artist Ichiro Yamaguchi), which leads you through to the restaurant and bar.

Here you’ll find prints, paintings and a few dazzling art installations, like the striking suspended Vespa-streetlamp hybrid by Tatzu Nishi and the black ball by sculptor Kohei Nawa. There’s even art in the washrooms, with a steep lamp-inspired installation hanging above the toilet.

Whether you come for a meal or just peruse the bar for the excellent seasonal fruit cocktails, you don't necessarily have to pay with cash. Being a touch eccentric, Pavilion uses their own ‘Roman’ coins, which you have to buy to redeem for drinks.

Design Festa Cafe & Bar

Restaurants Harajuku

It’s easy to miss this hidden cafe-bar-gallery in the backstreets of Harajuku, but it’s worth seeking out for its art, food and drinks. Design Festa – which also hosts an eponymous art festival several times a year – is segmented into 71 different exhibition spaces over East and West buildings, showcasing works by a roster of artists and creatives. In between these two buildings you’ll find the semi-al fresco café and bar terrace, which is adorned with many colourful wall paintings and murals as well as a large pomegranate tree.

The friendly bar is a watering hole for the city’s creative set, who come here for the reasonably priced drinks, especially the international selection of bottled beers which can be had from just ¥500. Food-wise, a global menu offers up well-executed hotdogs, nachos and even Philly cheesesteaks.

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Front Desk Bar at BnA Hotel Koenji

Hotels Koenji

BnA (‘Bed and Art’) aims to support up-and-coming Japanese artists who may not have a space to showcase their work. As such, this Koenji creative hub makes guests feel like they are staying in a work of art – the rooms are designed by local artists – but you don’t have to spend the night here to view the works at this unusual gallery.

The hotel’s front desk turns into a bar come 7pm nightly, which is your opportunity to take in the varied contemporary art adorning the space – don’t miss the backroom gallery in the basement. The bar hosts events and DJs on most Tuesdays (check the hotel’s Instagram feed for upcoming events). Drink prices are reasonable, with most hovering around the ¥500-600 range. There’s no cover charge on most nights, unless there’s an event.

A to Z Cafe

Restaurants Cafés Aoyama

Nestled among the glitzy stores of Aoyama is this spacious restaurant-bar created in collaboration with Japanese contemporary artist Yoshitomo Nara. Expect to see photographs and paintings of Nara’s signature sweet-yet-sinister girls as well as a collection of his art books which you can peruse at your leisure.

Most of Nara’s pieces can be found in the central space, a charming wooden house structure. After getting acquainted with Nara’s disconcerting paintings, head up to the rooftop bar for a panoramic view of Aoyama while sipping on a fresh-fruit cocktail, a glass of wine or something stronger. The menu also offers an extensive food selection, ranging from standard bar snacks and Japanese set meals to western classics such as salads and pastas.

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