Best casual bars in Tokyo

There's more to Tokyo's bar scene than the serious, formal bars of Ginza. Talk, laugh and just be yourself at these lively and cool bars
Mikkeller Tokyo
1/4
Øl Tokyo
2/4
Another 8
3/4
Mixology Salon
4/4
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Tokyo bars are some of the best in the world. Places like Ishinohana and Gem Yamamoto are venerable cocktail institutions, where the bartenders treat their drinks with the level of seriousness and dedication similar to a fine dining restaurant. While the mood and conversation at these bars may be a bit more restrained, they are, nonetheless, the best places to be if you're looking to appreciate the finer art of mixology.

However, not all Tokyo bars are like that. If you just want a watering hole with a more relaxed vibe, where you can talk, laugh and knock back a couple of drinks, these casual bars have the boiterous crowd and laidback attitude to match your mood.

Tokyo's coolest bars

Another 8
Photo: Lim Chee Wah
Bars and pubs, Craft beer pubs

Another 8

icon-location-pin Meguro

The sister shop of Kyoto-based craft beer and sake bar Before 9, Another 8 opened in the posh neighbourhood of Meguro, in a space that used to be a garage. A place for laidback drinking, it’s got tables and benches both inside and out, in addition to a stand bar that tends to get very crowded on weekends.

Although beer is the speciality at Another 8 – the place is equipped with eight taps – there is also a small but well-curated selection of sake. The bar snacks are pretty good too – we’re big fans of the marinated octopus and celery, while those looking for something more substantial will want to try the shirasu (whitebait) and daikon omelette.

Bars and pubs

Sakestand Shibuya

icon-location-pin Shibuya

The entrance may not be that obvious if you're coming from Shibuya Station, but Sakestand is all the better for it. This narrow, standing-only bar hidden away on the second floor on a side street off Dogenzaka is a little gem for those looking to immerse themselves in the wonderful world of sake. They serve a changing lineup of sake from across the country, presented in wine glasses with a small tag attached that states all the info (including the name in English) you need to find it again.

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Bars and pubs, Cocktail bars

Mixology Salon

icon-location-pin Ginza

When one thinks of Ginza bars, prim and prissy spaces affixed with a pricey drink list often come to mind. You can imagine how glad we were to have found Mixology Salon, which is bucking that stereotype with a relaxed attitude that also extends towards its inspired Japanese-take on cocktails.

Easily accessible on the 13th floor of Ginza Six, this unpretentious space is clean and minimal yet welcoming. In fact, it looks more like a modern tea bar than an alcoholic one – and there’s a good reason for that. Specialising in what they call ‘teatails’, Mixology Salon’s signature cocktails are all made with its house blend of tea-infused spirits. And you’ll find a wide range here, from hojicha-infused bourbon and soba cha vodka to oolong tea-flavoured rum and sencha gin.

Bars and pubs, Cocktail bars

The Open Book

icon-location-pin Shinjuku

A mixture of shochu, club soda and lemon juice, the humble lemon sour (the Japanese kind, not the cocktail base) isn't the kind of drink you would think merits a specialist bar. You'll change your mind, however, after a visit to The Open Book on Shinjuku's Golden Gai. Upon entering, your eyes are sure to fixate on the massive back wall, covered with books all the way to the ceiling.

You can browse the books while sipping on one of bartender Tanaka's signature sour mixtures. He uses a double-chamber Randall filter to bring out the zesty best in the lemons while mixing them with power-packed shochu and homemade lemon syrup, resulting in a harmony of sweet, sour and crisp. If you're feeling peckish, order the Curry Toast to go with the booze.

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Bars and pubs, Craft beer pubs

Mikkeller Tokyo

icon-location-pin Shibuya

Mikkeller Tokyo is set in a corner building in Shibuya’s love hotel-infested Hyakkendana. Offering a cosy yet comfy space for sipping both house craft brews and guest beers from Japan and beyond – there are 20 taps in total – it’s a wonderful addition to an offbeat neighbourhood where sex shops co-exist with stylish restaurants and even a Shinto shrine.

Partially opening up onto the street, the ground floor is where to enjoy a drink on your feet and it always gets crowded once the sun goes down, while tables are found in the quiet space upstairs. Bringing a touch of Scandinavian flair to Shibuya, Mikkeller is the kind of place we’d like to stop by every night.

Bars and pubs

Gem by Moto

icon-location-pin Ebisu

A drinks menu is provided at Ebisu’s Gem by Moto, but locals know you’re best to ignore it. Instead ask manager Marie Chiba or her staff to pick out the perfect drink to match your mood. This counter-only hideout is the repository of some serious sake expertise, so you’re in safe hands.

The food is good too, particularly the ham cutlets with blue cheese and cherry tomatoes with mozzarella, which will keep tempting you back for one last round. Gem lives up to its name, especially in Ebisu – a neighbourhood that suffered from a serious lack of proper sake bars before Chiba and her team rolled into town. In fact, it’s become so popular that reservations are recommended at all times.

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Bars and pubs, Craft beer pubs

Øl Tokyo

icon-location-pin Shibuya

When the sun begins to set over Oku-Shibuya (‘inner Shibuya’), the trendy back streets of Tokyo’s buzziest neighbourhood, you might spot more than a few suit-wearing characters making their way towards this shrine to Norwegian craft beer. The best bar in the area for a post-work pint, Øl Tokyo is the local outpost of Oslo Brewing and exudes Scandinavian style: the furniture and part of the décor was flown in straight from Norway.

The 20 taps serve a range of Nordic brews plus a rotating selection of guest beers. Food trucks occasionally park in front of the bar to compensate for its very sparse food menu, although we love the house-made waffles, filled with goat’s cheese.

Bars and pubs, Breweries

YYG Brewery & Beer Kitchen

icon-location-pin Yoyogi

Just down the road from the famed Shin Udon, this casual brewery/gastropub is a great place to wind down from the intensity of Shinjuku. The first floor brewery pub is where to go for a craft beer, or three: the changing line-up of beers includes house brews and domestic favourites such as Niigata's Swan Lake.

If you want something to nibble on with your beer, head to the seventh floor 'beer kitchen', which serves the same line-up of craft beers alongside a Western-inspired food menu. Considering the monocromatic, sleek decor, it's a surprise that YYG won't set you back that much: beers go for ¥800-¥1000, most appetisers are around the ¥800 mark and mains are from ¥1000, with generous portions to boot, too.

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Bars and pubs

Grandfather's

icon-location-pin Shibuya

Established 40 years ago, the aptly named Grandfather’s started out with a playlist style that was uncommon at the time, blending together rock LPs one song at a time. Today, the tunes are a selection of popular music (mainly AOR and funk and soul) from the ’70s, when vinyl records were mainstream. However, the owner is constantly on the lookout for new music and if a modern artist wins his favour they’ll get some ‘airtime’ too. After all these years, the interior is still well maintained, giving off a rich ambience that’s appropriate for such a venerable bar and that lends an extra level of charm to the music.

Nightlife, Late-night bars

Ginza Music Bar

icon-location-pin Ginza

This music bar is a joint project by coffee mogul Nobuhiro Toriba with music producers Takeshi Kobayashi and Shinichi Osawa. Over 3,000 analogue records encompassing everything from rock to jazz, new wave, techno and movie soundtracks plus a high-end sound system (it uses mainly Tannoy and McIntosh amps and speakers) give this space a serious geeky appeal. In addition to the regular ‘Kayo Night’ where you can enjoy Japanese pop songs from the Showa era, the bar also hosts live sets by Japanese DJs (including heavyweights such as Toshiyuki Goto and DJ Nori) on selected weekdays.

More on Tokyo's bar scene

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