Hyakunincho hangouts — a taste of Tokyo’s most cosmopolitan district

by Nicholas Coldicott

If you’re in the Hyakunincho area, Tokyo’s unofficial Koreatown, blocks north of Shinjuku Ward’s Kabukicho, be sure to take a trawl of these eclectic bars:

Shinjuku Pocha

Yellowing newspapers, empty booze bottles and corrugated steel panels might sound like a rather desperate choice of decor, but it works like a charm at Shinjuku Pocha. This rustic Korean izakaya, located on the same narrow alleyway as The Ghetto (see above), has a down-home vibe befitting its name: an abbreviation of the Korean word for roadside food stall. Pocha has the vast menu of fiery foods such as chijimi (spicy pancakes) and bulgogi (grilled marinated beef) that’s essential to any Koreatown eatery, but it stands out for its love of makkoli, a milky white fermented rice wine that’s served here in tin kettles. Serving alcohol in units of “kettles” may explain the perennially jovial ambience at Pocha.

Shinjuku Pocha, 1-2-3 Hyakunincho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo. Open 5 p.m.-5 a.m. daily. Tel: (03) 5285-8191

Naked Loft

Loft Plus One is a Tokyo institution. Billed as a “talk live house,” the dark Kabukicho basement hosts lively late-night panel discussions on topics as varied as ecological awareness, air guitar and whether or not adult-industry workers are inherently bad people. Naked Loft is Plus One’s nearby sister bar, a smaller but airier venue that divides its schedule between music and discussion events. No doubt drawing on the reputation of its big sister, Naked Loft’s schedule has events every night of the week, as well as the occasional afternoon. The format varies from standup comedy to slide shows to aspiring pop idol events. It’s not the spot for a quiet drink.

1-5-1 Hyakunincho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo. Tel: (03) 3205-1556. Open: 6:30 p.m.-3:30 a.m. www.loft-prj.co.jp

Maid Bar CHLOE

Cute girls plus maid costumes plus fluffy bunny ears usually equals Akihabara. In Hyakunincho you get Maid Bar CHLOE, a quaint drinking house with Victorian-style maids who sing showtunes, act out playlets and crank out cuteness for Hyakunincho’s otaku (obsessive) set. Owner Yui Kitahara — or Anemone to her customers — says her bar is modeled on a botanical garden, but in truth it resembles a friendly neighborhood bistro, only with maids where the waiter should be. Counter seats cost ¥700 but deliver maximum maid interaction, while tables are a touch cheaper at ¥500. Kitahara speaks English, so CHLOE is one of the rare maid establishments with bilingual moe (nerd love).

Maid Bar CHLOE, Marus Bldg B1, 1-15-19 Hyakunincho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo. Open 7 p.m.-5 a.m daily. Tel (03) 5338-2152. www.bar-chloe.jp

K-pops Style Bar WA Bar

The most extravagantly named bar in the area is a shrine to the saccharine world of Korean pop. This pristine, minimalist basement is punctuated by projections of jiggling K-pop starlets in one corner and less explicably by a fully decorated Christmas tree in another. Only a connoisseur could differentiate K-pop from J-pop musically, but fans of international chart candy can expand their knowledge while drinking from a wide-ranging menu that includes draft Guinness (¥700), a range of Korean liquors (from ¥600) and a mango beer (¥700) that tastes just as it sounds. As elsewhere in Koreatown, the welcome is warm and the food is red hot.

K-pops Style Bar WA Bar, B101 2-41-8 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo. Open 6 p.m.-5 a.m. Mon-Sat; 6 p.m.-12 a.m. Sun. Tel: (03) 5285-8639.

Related story: Skate on down to Little Korea