Top 16 Unique Bars in Tokyo

By The BFF Tokyo Team| February, 2022 

If you are looking for a drinking place in Tokyo to stop by, this article is for you. You will find in this article not only unique bars in Tokyo, Japan, but also the next destination for your Tokyo bar-hopping adventure. The unique bars in Tokyo pique the interests of their customers for original and creative concepts, as well as their special services and campaigns.  

This article is a part of our extensive series on living in Japan and Learning about Japan

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    Unique bars in Tokyo_Toast

    Is there a big drinking culture in Japan?

    Knowing and understanding the Japanese’s drinking culture would elevate your drinking experience at bars in Tokyo or anywhere else in Japan to a new level. It is easy to access alcohol in Japan, from bars and restaurants to vending machines on the street. This is because the Japanese seemingly enjoy drinking - Be it the weekdays or the weekends, with colleagues or with friends, for special occasions, or for nothing whatsoever, they are ready for a drinking gathering. Drinking as a way to communicate has been embedded in their culture way far back in history and the Japanese people consider drinking as a way to connect and share feelings. Bars in Tokyo are always packed, even during weekdays!

    Differences compared to other countries

    The Japanese drinking culture has some differences compared to other countries, which may be both surprising and interesting. In Japan, the legal drinking age is strictly decreed as 20 years old while the majority of the world lower the bar to 18 years old.

    As mentioned above, the Japanese have created so many occasions as official reasons for their drinking gathering. For workers, it is important to note down on their calendar Bounenkai (忘年会) – year-end party, Kangeikai (歓迎会)– Welcome party for newbies, Shinnenkai (新年会)– New Year company party, and Soubetsukai (送別会)– Farewell party. That means you can enjoy drinking parties with your colleagues all year round! For serious meetings for business, the Japanese hold Settai, a work drinking-discussing to spark business relationships with potential clients or customers. Hanami, a flower viewing tradition of the Japanese, is no exception. The Japanese enjoy drinking while admiring the blooming cherry blossom!

    The Japanese drinking etiquettes are also different from those of other countries, such as avoiding filling your own glass or becoming drunk. These etiquettes will be further explained at the end of the article, so keep reading or click here to find out about Japanese drinking etiquettes.

    All drinking events among colleagues, friends, club members, etc. are called nomikai in general.

    Unique bars in Tokyo_wine drink
    Unique bars in Tokyo_bar

    What is Nomikai?

    Nomikai

    The word nomikai (飲み会) is made up from nomu (飲む) which means drink and kai () which means communication or gathering. The whole term implies drinking to communicate, and it is a particular drinking gathering norm in Japanese culture. Nomikai often refers to gathering among adults, while the students have their own version of the nomikai – konpa.

    The employees/workers in Japan can enjoy several nomikai occasions as mentioned, but in reality, it is an unwritten rule that they have to attend such nomikai if they want to climb the corporate ladder.

    The importance of nomikai

    Why is nomikai so important? This is because, in Japan, people want to build an image of being serious, which often hinders social interactions at work.  Companies tend to regard drinking together as an important tool to break down the barriers between colleagues, boss, and clients and open doors for constructive openness. Co-workers can exchange opinions and ideas, be it work-related or not, and build a stronger bond while bosses/managers can hear more from their employees. Moreover, in some situations, managers use nomikai as a chance to informally evaluate or assess their employees based on their interactions during the party. Depending on your point of view, nomikai at work can be a positive or negative practice.

    Usually, one person will be responsible for organizing the nomikai – preparing the venue, setting up and booking, etc. The attendees are not required to drink, or eat, but will be asked to pay a set amount. The nomikai even has an agenda! First is the welcome speech, followed by comments from the important figures like presidents or managers and toasts before the actual feast. New employees have to introduce themselves to all of their seniors to show their respect. Of course, the drinking party does not involve only drinks, people often have an accompanying meal or a snack, or a full meal. 

    The social party then ends with everyone clapping. However, that may not conclude the day. The attendees can go to the nijikai (二次会, first afterparty) or sanjikai (三次会, second afterparty) in smaller groups for deeper conversations or bar-hopping.

    Some unique bars in Tokyo are very suitable to organize nomikai with friends or with colleagues, which we will introduce later in this article.

    Drinking for socializing in Japan
    Toast during nomikai
    Clapping to end nomikai

    Nomihoudai (all you can drink)

    Nomihoudai (飲放題, all you can drink), as the name suggest, is a bar’s deal that allow you to order drinks from a special menu set as much as you want in a specifically determined amount of time (1 hour, 90 minutes, etc.). This is a very great deal for heavy-drinkers or those who want to enjoy the nights without worrying about over-ordering. Therefore, when organizing nomikai, nomihoudai places are often chosen to enjoy the night with great memories. Most Japanese-style bars in Tokyo offer nomihoudai courses, so you can try this course when you visit our suggested bars! We even have some tips for you when choosing this course.

    Side note: If you see tabehoudai, this means all you can eat!

    Drinks at Bars in Tokyo

    Popular drinks in Japan

    As drinking plays a crucial part in Japanese society, the alcohol production industry is well developed with several types of alcoholic beverages catering to your special preferences. Alcoholic beverages can be found in supermarkets, department stores, convenience stores, liquor stores, or even vending machines. Please keep in mind that the legal drinking age in Japan is 20 years old!

     

    1. Beer and beer-like drinks

    Though not having its origin in Japan, beer must be among the most popular alcoholic drink in this country. In recent years, a new type of beer-like beverage has been released to the market such happoshu (発泡酒, sparkling alcoholic beverage).

    Beers
    Sake

     

    2. Sake (酒, Rice Wine)

    Although sake literally means any kind of alcohol in Japanese, sake is often used to refer to rice wine. Sake, or nihonshu, often contains a relatively high 10-20 percent of alcohol and can be enjoyed either hot or cold.  Sparkling sake is recommended for a new alcoholic try.

    Sake store

     

    3. Highball (ハイボール)

    Whisky highball, also known as a highball, only contains only 5-10 percent of alcohol and is often a substitute for beer during nomikai. It is simply a combination of whisky and soda water, and the sparkling taste is popular among the young.

    highball
    Shochu cups

     

    4.  Shochu (焼酎)

    Containing even a higher percentage of alcohol content than sake, Shochu is a popular drink brewed by rice or sweet potatoes, wheat and/or sugar cane. Because of its high alcohol content of 20-40 percent, it is often drunk with iced water, sparkling water, tea or even juice. Its sugar-free nature and decent alcohol content makes it much easier to drink alone or with side dishes.

    5. Chuhai (酎ハイ)

    Chuhai (shortened from "shochu highball") which literally is a combination of shochu and highball, are fruit-flavored alcoholic drinks with an alcohol content between three and eight percent. Common flavors include lemon, ume, peach, grapefruit, and lime in addition to seasonal flavors. Chuhai is made of shochu and soda and is available premixed in cans anywhere alcohol is sold.

    Chuhai
    Umeshu
    Whisky

     

    6. Umeshu (梅酒, Plum wine)

    Umeshu is a mixture of Japanese plums or ume () and shochu or nihonshu and sugar, which makes it sweet, fruity and juice-like. It is this unique flavor and aroma that attracts the attention of those who are not fans of alcohol.

     

     

    7.  Japanese Whisky & Wine

    Japanese wines or whiskies are catching up with their international rivals in spite of their short history. Many wineries emerged in Japan, appealing to the domestic market.

    Do you like visiting local shops and restaurants but are not a fan of alcoholic drinks? Visit our Ultimate Guide to cafes in Tokyo or Ultimate Guide to tea ceremony in Tokyo for amazing suggestions.

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    Different types of bars in Japan

    Tokyo never fails to offer some of the best entertainment in the world. You can find an endless list of bars in Tokyo, especially on the street of Ginza or hidden in a Roppongi alley. These bars are not all the same as there are a wide range of bar types available in Tokyo, but some unique bars in Tokyo are one of a kind!

    So how can you distinguish different bar types? What makes an izakaya or tachinomi different from just a "bar”? Why should you go to a “shot bar”? We will happily guide you through different bar types and help you to get an image of their atmosphere and operation in this article. Knowing the bar type you prefer can help you perfectly decide "the" bar in Tokyo you are looking for!

    Some bar types are popular everywhere, not just Japan, such as cocktail bars, wine bars, and beer halls & gardens. Although these types are not traditional Japanese, the Japanese bar owners breathe a new soul to them – similar setup, similar drink, but totally different atmosphere and vibes in Tokyo – so please do not hesitate to stop by. Cocktail bars are distinguished by their secret, hidden locations, and intriguing concoctions. Wine bars are recognized by European style food and featuring high-quality wines on the menu. Beer halls has German style, open-air space and mainly serves craft beer. How about checking some of them out with our list of top bars in Tokyo with unique themes?

    bars in Tokyo

    On the other hand,...

    ...there are some kinds of bars unique to Japan that it is hard for you to experience anywhere else on Earth. Only seen in Japan, Kyabakura (キャバクラ), translated as hostess club or host club, is often regarded as an expensive escape from reality where you drink and have one-on-one conversations with pretty girls and handsome boys. This type of entertainment bar is often presented in anime, manga, or documentaries, so you have probably heard it somewhere. Most importantly, Kyabakura is often built in big cities in Japan, especially in the capital Tokyo - it is a truly unique bar in Tokyo!

    A mixture of cocktail bars and kyabakura is Girls Bar (ガールズバー) where you can enjoy drinking with a lot of girls at the same time. Yokocho bar generally covers any type of bar, pub, izakaya situated in the less crowded alleyways off of busy main roads. Tachinomi (立ち飲み), standing bar, only has a few seats and is always crowded, often combine with other forms to become tachinomi wine bar or tachinomi cocktail bar. 

    Yokocho bars
    Tachonomi izakaya

    The most unique traditional Japanese bar type must be Izakaya (居酒屋) that guarantees you an unmissable drinking party! First emerging in the Edo era, this Japanese-style gastropub is now a favorite nomikai location for many Japanese, from employees to young college students. You can find izakaya everywhere all over Japan, but we believe the Japanese-style bar in Tokyo will bring you surprise and hit different! Our list of top izakayas in Tokyo is below, so keep reading!

    Japanese-style bar Izakaya
    Izakaya food

    Aside from bars, Tokyo at night offers much more! Check out our The best things to do in Tokyo at night or Ultimate Guide to Tokyo at night.

    Before you visit: Charges at bars in Tokyo (and around Japan)

    Japan does not have any tipping culture; however, there are some kinds of charging systems, similar to cover fees, that some bars apply. When visiting bars in Tokyo in specific and in Japan in general, you may come across different types of charges depending on the bar.

    A sekiryou 席料)seat charge can be understood at a payment for using a seat at the venues, often at bars, izakayas, and also at restaurants.  saabisu ryou (サービス料) service charge, usually 10% of your bill, is similar to consumption tax for foods around Japan and not considered tipping. At some bars, you may encounter late-night charges when you are staying very late or past a particular time, or music charges if the bar offers live music performance.


    To know more about Japan's consumption tax, visit our recently published article on this matter!


    Otoushi (お通し)

    The most common bar charge in Japan must be Otoushi (お通し, appetizer charge). In bars or izakaya, this charge can be mandatory and rightfully legal. According to the law, you can decline the otoushi but the bar can also refuse to serve you in such a situation. As the name suggests, otoushi is a charge for a small dish, or appetizer that ranges from 200 to 500 yen per person. Despite being a drinking place, bars or izakayas in Japan often serve amazing dishes and it is also a cultural norm to enjoy food and drinks together.  Sometimes if the food takes a long time to prepare and arrive at the table, the bar or izakaya may offer an appetizer and small dish of otoushi as a way for both sides (customers and bars) to confirm the order. This developed into otoushi charges, with which you can enjoy new bar sample foods or soothe your hungry stomach and help you survive a hangover. Some places have only 1 type of otoushi, some offer a few, some change their otoushi menu daily or on a seasonal basis. When you visit bars in Tokyo, you can order more otoushi and try more tasty appetizers!

    Bar charge Otoushi

    Top unique bars in Tokyo with special or exclusive themes and concepts

    Tokyo has it all - one particular thing that you may find in the capital is unique brain Tokyo with distinctive, quirky, or novel themes and concepts. We have selected 6 must-visit unique bars in Tokyo to spice up your drinking experience!

    Hunters bar

    The Hunters Bar dedicated to its Monsters Hunter fan and people who want to enjoy their game nights with drinks on the side. The bar has a big screen connected to PS4, different game terminals, toys and figurines at your disposal. Moreover, the Guild Card system of this unique bar in Tokyo will keep track of your game progress! 

    It is a unique bar in Tokyo with an entertainment-bar combo to hang out with your friends.


    Address: 1-1-10 Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0021 Pasela Resorts AKIBA Multi-Entertainment 3F
    Nearest train station: JR Line "Akihabara Station"
    Open hours: 12:00-22:00 (during the pandemic)
    Best for: Gamers or people who enjoy retro culture

    Bar that has entertainments

    Magic bar CUORE

    If you are interested in seeing a magic show while you drink, this unique bar in Tokyo is made for you. Magic bar CUORE (マジックバークオーレ) offers their customers magic shows with a variety of cocktails for a truly magical night!


    Address: Shinjuku Building 5F, 1-2-13 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160-0021
    Nearest train station: Seibu Shinjuku Line Shinjuku / Higashi Shinjuku
    Open hours: 20:00 - 5:00
    Best for: People who are in the mood for magic shows

    Bars that has magic shows

    Penguin Bar

    Located in Ikebukuro, Penguin Bar attracts a lot of customers for its cute little penguins. Guests can eat food, enjoy drinks and watch the penguins or even feed them.  The signature drink here is a frozen penguin cocktail that has a tropical flavor and penguin-like appearance. We're sure the penguin lovers will not overlook this unique bar in Tokyo!


    Address: GINZA201 Building, 2-4-2 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061
    Nearest train station: Ginza
    Open hours: 15:00-1:00
    Best for: Penguin lovers

    Bars that has penguins

    Science Bar INCUBATOR

    Making you feel like being a scientist, Science Bar INCUBATOR (サイエンスバー インキュベータ) in Shinjuku is a small unique bar in Tokyo with a laboratory theme. Bartenders will dress like scientists in a white lab coat and the drinks will come in laboratory glassware. The bar also has “wine tasting” which is served going through test tubes. You will wonder whether you have actually got yourself in a lab!


    Address: 1st floor of Shinkomaso, 7 Araki-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160-0007
    Nearest train station: Yotsuya 3-Chome 
    Open hours: 17:00-21:00 (during the pandemic)
    Best for: People who enjoy sciences and laboratories

    Bars that has science tools

    Shibuya Dagashi Bar

    Situated in the modern Tokyo is Dagashi Bar, a retro-themed bar that will bring you back to the past. The atmosphere of dagashiya – post-war neighborhood shops that sold candies – is recreated here in this unique bar in Tokyo where customers can enjoy many different types of candies (2-hour limit) while sipping their drinks. 

    Similar to Penguin Bar, it is a unique bar in Tokyo where the kids inside us adults will be brought out!


    Address: 26-5 Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0042
    Nearest train station: Shibuya station/ Hakicho exit
    Open hours: 15:00-21:00
    Best for: Candy lovers or people who want to see the atmosphere of post-war Japan

    Bars that serves Japanese sweets

    Iron Fairies Ginza (Tir na nog)

    The Iron Fairies Ginza bar is unique bar in Tokyo that will be able to travel you to another dimension, a fantasy world. As the name suggests, the bar is filled with handmade iron fairies, with fairy-themed decorations everywhere. Though being more expensive than other bars, this fantasy hub is definitely worth your visit.


    Address: 5-9-5 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061 Cheers Ginza B1
    Nearest train station: Higashi Ginza
    Open hours: 11:00 - 4:00
    Best for: People who like fantasies and fairytales


    Unique bars in Tokyo_fantasy theme

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    Top unique izakaya - Japanese-style bars in Tokyo for a Japanese-style night out

    As mentioned above, izakaya is a special type of bar belonging to the Japanese. Having a drinking night in an izakaya in Tokyo is the best way to immerse yourself in Japanese cultures! In this guide, we suggest 3 Tokyo-based izakayas that you rarely encounter outside Japan or anywhere rather than Tokyo.

    Year 6 Class 4  Shinjuku Higashi-guchi Eki-mae Bunko

    Intentionally decorated as a Japanese elementary school classroom, Year 6 Class 4 is an izakaya in Shinjuku that will definitely keep you entertained. The tables and chairs are those of a classroom and the menu items and drinks are served as a school lunch! Try out this unique bar in Tokyo and see your home countries have similar elementary school classrooms!


    Address: Shinjuku Square Bldg. 9F, 1-16-3 Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
    Nearest train station: Shinjuku station/ East exit
    Open hours: 17:00 - 23:00
    Best for: People who are interested in Japanese classrooms

    Schools in Japan

    Mysterious Shinjuku Store

    Different from the nostalgia school-themed izakaya, Mysterious Shinjuku Store izakaya has a futuristic sense with hanging stars decorated around the restaurant and blue-glowing counter. This unique bar in Tokyo has many private rooms, and the music are not too loud, so you can enjoy your drinks in a relaxing and cozy star-themed bar! Their signature is the Planetary Cocktails inspired by different planets which are too pretty to drink!


    Address: 1-16-3 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160-0021 Celesa Yoei Shinjuku Building B1
    Nearest train station: Shinjuku (Tokyo Metro) Station
    Open hours: 17: 00-23: 30 (17:00-5:00 on Saturday)
    Best for: People who like universe themes Japanese classrooms

    Unique bars in Tokyo_chill bar

    Andy’s Shin Hinomoto

    An izakaya under the train tracks at Yuurakuchou Station, Andy’s Shin Hinomoto is 70-year old, and nostalgically adorned train-like space. The izakaya is huge with two floors and a capacity of overall 150 people, it is a must-visit unique bar in Tokyo for drinking with friends!


    Address: 2-4-4 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-0006
    Nearest train station: JR Yurakucho Station/ Hibiya exit
    Open hours: 17:00-0:00
    Best for: People who enjoy retro culture or like Japanese trains

    Unique bars in Tokyo_japanese train

    What do you think about karaoke with friends after nomikai? Check out our Guide to Karaoke in Tokyo!

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    Happy Hour

    Top unique bars in Tokyo that have happy hours for inexpensive yet fantastic bar experiences

    On a budget but still want to try new cocktails? No worries because we have picked out amazing bars in Tokyo that offer happy hours to save your pockets! For those who may not be familiar with this concept, happy hour is a period of the day when there are attractive discounts on drinks in a bar. Many unique bars in Tokyo have happy hour campaigns so customers can enjoy their favorite alcoholic drinks at a reduced price!

    1.   Geronimo Shot Bar 

    Happy hours: until 9 pm daily

    Roppongi is where clubs and bars in Tokyo thrive, and the prices for them are nowhere near cheap. Geronimo Shot Bar in Roppongi is no exception, but with happy hours, you can drink the night away with a much cheaper bill. The bar has its walls covered with names of successful shot challenge champions. This loud-music unique bar in Tokyo is best for a crazy party night!


    Address: 2nd floor, Yamamuro Building, 7-14-10 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0032
    Nearest train station: Roppongi station
    Open hours: 18:00-6:00
    Best for: People who want a crazy drinking night


    1.     The Griffon

    Happy hour: 5.30-8 pm daily

    Specializing in craft beer, the Griffon offers 20 different beers on tap for a considerable price during their happy hour. Indulging yourself with delicious craft beer and munchy side dishes, you and your friends will have a great time at this beer dining!


    Address:  2-22-6 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0002 Kowa Building B1F
    Nearest train station: Shibuya station
    Open hours: 18:00-1:00
    Best for: Beer lovers


    1.     Orange

    Happy hour: 4-7 pm daily

    Another Roppongi hideout is Orange, a champagne bistro – sounds pretty expensive. However, during the happy hour, you can help yourself to the best alcoholic drinks at half prices while admiring the stunning terrace view. Does this unique bar in Tokyo catch your attention now?


    Address: Tokyo Midtown Plaza 1F, 9-7-1 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0052
    Nearest train station: Roppongi station
    Open hours: 11:00-24:00 (11:00-21:00 during the pandemic)
    Best for: People who fancy a romantic luxurious drinking night


    Unique bars in Tokyo_martinit glasses
    Unique bars in Tokyo_happy hour

    This list is not enough to satisfy you? Check out The Top 15 Bars in Tokyo or our Events in Tokyo or more references!

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    Japanese phrases you need at bars in Japan

    1. How do you say Cheers in Japanese?

    Kanpai (乾杯), literally translated as “dry cup”, means cheers in Japanese. A popular phrase, Otsukaresama deshita (お疲れ様でした), can also be used to cheers, implying that “You have worked hard and deserve a drink!”

    2. What food/drink do you order?

    Some Izakaya (居酒屋) have an English menu, and some has image-filled menus or ordering tablets. You can ask waiter/waitress for recommendation by using the phrase

    Osusume wa Arimasuka?

    (オススメはありますか?)

    What is your recommendation?

    Moreover, although it is not common to refuse otoushi in Japan, you can use the phrase

    Otoushi iranai desu

    (お通しいらないです)

    I do not need Otoushi

    …in case you are allowed to by the restaurants/ bars.

    3. How to pay?

    When you want to check out, inform the waiters/waitresses and tell them:

    お会計お願いします。

    Okaikei onegaishimasu

    I/ We would like to pay (the bill)

    Usually, they will give you the bill at the table and you will pay at the counter. Sometimes you can pay at the table depending on the restaurant. If you want to pay by card, use this phrase:

    カードでいいですか。

    Kaado de ii desu ka.

    Can I pay by credit card?

    We just provided you with some simple useful Japanese phrases for visiting any bars in Tokyo or Japan. However, you can upgrade your Japanese to the next level with our exclusive Japanese courses!

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    Japanese drinking etiquettes for your visits to bars in Japan

    The Japanese drinking etiquettes are quite different from those of other countries, especially during nomikai sessions. Please do not worry since we will show you some basic Japanese drinking etiquettes to make your drinking experiences at unique bars in Tokyo truly unique! 

    1. Never pour a drink for yourself

    Please remember that in Japan rather than pouring yourself a drink, you wait for your friends, colleagues, or the host to fill your glasses, and you will pour for them! When you pour, you should carefully the container with both hands to show "respect" to others.

    2. Who should pour first?

    This should be taken into account during any nomikai sessions with the Japanese. The participant of lower rank or age (employee, junior, kouhai, etc.) will first offer to pour the drink firsts to his/her superior (boss, manager, sempai, etc.).

    3. Don’t drink before everyone has their drink

    It is polite to wait for everyone to start eating. This etiquette is not really different from other countries.  

    4. When to cheer?

    Similar to the west, Japanese people traditionally say cheers on the first round of drinks. You can also make a toast after a conversation topic, to engage everyone in the conversations!

    5. Do not pressure others into drinking

    This should not be done anywhere, not just in Japan. When you want to stop drinking, keep your glass full or drink non-alcoholic ones to signal your stop.


    Having great manners and local-like etiquette at nomikai in unique bars in Tokyo will earn you great impressions from your Japanese friends. We have an article on how to make Japanese friends, give it a look if you are interested!


    Unique bars in Tokyo_toast 2

    Things to be careful of when visiting bars in Tokyo

    1. Drinking and driving is an absolute no!

    In Japan or anywhere, driving under the influence of alcohol is totally illegal, but the standard of targeted punishment for the drink-driving of Japan is relatively stricter than other countries. Moreover, if the driver is drunk, the passenger shares the same responsibility. Please take care! Make sure you check what time your last train is or where you can get a taxi.

    To know more about driving in Japan, visit the Ultimate guide to Japan driving test or International driver's license in Japan

    2. Make the most of nomihoudai

    Although nomihoudai is a great drinking deal, you are under invisible pressure to get your money’s worth and forego eating and talking to drink at a rushing abnormal speed. Service also seems to be magically slower than usual when you choose nomihoudai course. Our tip is to order your next drinks even before you’ve finished your current round.

    Concluding remarks

    Now you are ready to hit downtown Tokyo and have memorable and fun drinking experiences at unique bars in Tokyo. Keep our tips in mind and invite your friends out for a drink!

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