Tokyo is renowned for its extortionate land prices and ingenious use of space – and for knowing how to have a good time. Those three factors together have spawned countless miniature-sized watering holes, resulting in the city having the highest concentration of bars in the world. These tiny establishments trade elbow room for an intimate atmosphere and practically force you to strike up conversations with fellow sippers and the bar staff. Here’s where to spend a few warm and cozy hours over booze.
Hidden away in the neon glow of Shinjuku, down a dubious-looking alleyway in Kabukicho, Bar Buta-Bako – the smallest joint on this list – sits right next to a Chinese restaurant where you can try leftfield delicacies including fried spider and scorpion. This ‘barrack-style’ boozer seats only five, yet the small size lends it a relaxing, comfortable atmosphere.
The bar’s intriguing name – ‘piggy bank’ in Japanese – comes from the owner’s wish that as many customers as possible come and visit him, just like you’d prefer as many coins as possible in your piggy bank. There’s no cover charge, but each drink will set you back ¥1,000. The bar staff change on a daily basis, so different conversations can be had every time. If you’re lucky, you might also meet the resident cat.
Tiny-o-metre: 5 seats
Recommended drink: Leave it up to that night’s bartender
Opened in 2004 in Nonbei Yokocho (‘drunkard’s alley’) next to Shibuya Station, Tight sure lives up to its name. Open the petite door and take the narrow stairs up to this classy micro-establishment, which seats five if everybody breathes in. Many of the regulars are non-Japanese Tokyoites who come to swap travel stories, while the owner says he’ll never refuse anyone, as long as they don’t mind their personal space invaded – Tight’s record is 20 patrons in the bar at the same time. For a leisurely drink and a music-focused chat with the owner, arrive early on a weekday; weekends are the time to experience peak tightness.
Tiny-o-metre: 5 seats
Recommended drink: Draft apple cider
A warm little refuge along Omotesando-dori, 16 ̊C (16 degrees) is a one-man show run by sommelier Mr Amada and boasts an impressive selection of organic wines. Grab one of the nine counter seats and you’ll be greeted with an aperitif and a glass of champagne. Amada used to work at a Japanese restaurant specialising in duck and conjures up both grilled and steamed bird alongside other hearty dishes, making his bar a great dinner option too. There’s a ¥1,000 cover charge.
Tiny-o-metre: 9 seats
Recommended drink: Organic wine
This eye-catchingly pink bar between Shibuya and Daikanyama was opened in 2014 by a Kanagawa native who ran the beauty salon next door. Equally friendly towards first-timers and regulars, she’s a hard worker: Hot Stand Pells is open from 8am daily and turns into a bar from 6pm, when the proprietress starts serving a delicious range of seasonal aperitifs from behind the counter. You’ll find imported beers, cocktails, sake, Japanese whisky and shochu as well, while the artsy space also functions as a pop-up shop.
Tiny-o-metre: 10 seats
Recommended drink: Coffee shochu