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Latin bars offer a change of tempo in Tokyo

by Angela Erika Kubo

Tokyo’s smattering of Latin bars and restaurants offer a change of pace (literally) from the usual drinking spot, with booming Latin music and sometimes even salsa dancing.

One of the best spots to enjoy Latin culture in Tokyo is Paraiso in Roppongi (B1F, 7-10-3 Roppongi, Minato-ku; 03-6447-1963; www.paraiso-bar.com). The venue is popular for its mojitos, which come in more than 20 different flavors. You can keep it simple and order the standard mojito, but if you want something a little more exciting there are yoghurt and mango varieties. The menu also includes frozen cocktails such as margaritas and daiquiris — perfect for Tokyo’s humid summer. On Sundays, the bar brings in a live band.

Paraiso tends to draw in a tame Japanese crowd before midnight, but after the clock strikes 12, the party starts to pick up, according to Nash Antonio, who works in a car export business.

“The bar staff are very friendly and they play old-style salsa music. It’s really fun after midnight. A lot of Colombian and Spanish people come,” he says.

It’s also a good place to drink while avoiding the stench of cigarette smoke, says Miyuki Yamamoto, who comes to Paraiso once or twice a week. “Because the ceiling here is high, the cigarette smoke is not so smelly.”

Other clubs and bars in the area include El Café Latino (3-15-24 Roppongi, Minato-ku; 03-3402-8989; www.elcafelatino.com) and Salsa Caribe (2F, 5-3-4 Roppongi, Minato-ku; 03-3746-0244; www.salsacaribe.jp). The entrance fee at El Café Latino is usually around ¥1,500 and you can take dance lessons early in the evening. However, the place can get quite packed and hot on a weekend night. Caribe attracts the best dancers in Tokyo, though it can be intimidating for salsa beginners.

There are many other bars around Tokyo where you can enjoy salsa and merengue music while you sip on a mojito. One is Fiesta Latin Spot Bar (21st Tokyo Bldg. 3F, 1-14-6 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku; 03-3204-9236; www.fiesta-latinspotbar.com), located in Kabukicho, Shinjuku’s infamous red-light district. Don’t let the seediness of the area stop you from making a stop. The bar is full of friendly staff who will save you a dance if they aren’t too busy, and the place closes at midnight — just in time to catch your last train.

“We’re smaller than Paraiso, but our place has an at-home feel,” says employee Alex Toguti. “Everyone gets along here.”

Drinks are usually ¥800, but on Wednesdays and the fourth Friday of every month the prices are knocked down to ¥500. The bar, which is built like a dance studio with mirrors on the walls, also offers dance lessons every night.

For those who live in the northern area of Tokyo or in Saitama, then Caribbean Café (MS Bldg. 5F, 1-38-7 Nishi-Ikebukuro, Toyoshima-ku; 03-3984-3966; www.dancefan.net) is the place to go. The bar and dance floor are separate, which is good if you’re afraid of having your drink knocked out of your hands by dancers.

“I think Latin culture is popular in Japan and is getting bigger,” says Toguti. “One good thing about salsa is that it attracts people of all ages here.”

Angela Erika Kubo is a freelance writer and bar lover based in Tokyo. Follow her on Twitter @aekubo.