Tokyo offers no shortage of distractions for the Western traveler, from the hustle and chaos of Shibuya and its scramble crossing to the stall markets and temples of Asakusa. But when it comes to a serious night out, a city as sprawling and neighbourhood-centric as Tokyo can prove problematic, especially given that subway service shuts down well before any serious night out can get off the ground.
Enter Roppongi: One of the best neighbourhoods in Tokyo for making a night of it. Located just northeast of the Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Tower, bustling Roppongi offer some of Tokyo’s best bars, restaurants and diversions.
Starting your night off with a good base never hurt anyone, so why not fill up somewhere that looks eerily familiar. Gonpachi offers an Izakaya (skewers) and Soba (noodle) dominated menu at affordable prices by Tokyo standards. The draw of Gonpachi, of course, is the ambience. It was famously doubled by Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill Vol. 1 which has naturally given the joint renown and cult appeal to the Western visitor. For those in the know, it was the inspiration for the set of The Bride’s epic fight scene with the Crazy 88. Book early to get a table.
After getting a solid base, it’s time to get in a good few drinks and the best spots are back towards the Hibiya Line Metro. Just out from Exit 3 of Roppongi Station is the Ant n’ Bee, a burgeoning basement brew pub where the line of taps takes up nearly half the space. The plus is that the drink menu is well laid out, telling you exactly what the colour, style and flavor of your beer is before making a wild guess at what the name might entail. There’s a wide variety for most tastes on offer everything from Japanese takes on India Pale Ale to a deep, flavourful chocolate stout to the Harvest Moon (very, very smoky – not unlike the bar itself when it fills up).
Another huge perk to the Ant n’ Bee is the free wifi, which is something of a scarcity in Tokyo outside of the select Metro stations that offer it. Once you’ve gotten your taste there and are ready once again to take on the night, head in the direction of the Hard Rock Café (no, not to the Hard Rock Café) towards Train Bar. It might be hard to find, but it’s on the main street and will call to you with a neon sign that simply says “Train”. It’s technically the bottom floor of the ROI Building for anyone looking for any form of specific directions … a true luxury in Tokyo.
What’s inside? Well, it’s pretty self-explanatory. One old train car, papered entirely with old photos and personal testimonials on bank notes and usually blaring Western rock of the clientele’s choosing (AC/DC and the Stones appear most popular). It may sound a little tourist-y, but it’s a devoted set of regular customers, jammed tight inside the car exploiting the happy hour specials ($5 CDN bourbons!) and waiting for someone to ring the bell that earns the whole car a round of shots. You won’t stay the night, but you should definitely stay for a second round.
Right across the road is one of Roppongi’s biggest attractions, literally. Don Quijote is the perfect balance of practical and comical when it comes to retail outlets. Open round the clock, the superstore’s many floors are jammed with everything from high-end electronics to foreign treats for the domestic pet to kinky unmentionables. It’s a sight to see, even if late night shopping isn’t on the docket. There’s a wealth of snack options, souvenir ideas and a whole lot of weird. There’s also a roller coaster on the top floor that was started in 2005 but never completed.
The aforementioned stops are just the start of a night in one of Tokyo’s most colourful neighbourhoods. There are heaps of late night meal options, especially some of the city’s tastiest ramen joints. Menshou Taketora serves up several different broth, flavor and meat options, but it’s pretty hard to go wrong with any of the options within yelling distance of Quijote and Train. There are also several bars to consider from chains like Gas Panic to the German beer garden Franziskaner with its wide patio and cozy interior. There are also seedier establishments peppered in there for, um, flavour.
The point is, there are vast options in surprisingly close proximity. You never really know what you’re looking for until you find yourself there.