Intellectuals and artists have rubbed shoulders with Kabukichō’s demimonde since just after World War II in the tiny bars of Golden Gai (ゴールデン街). For decades, this hugely atmospheric warren of around 150 drinking dens has teetered on the brink of oblivion, the cinderblock buildings under threat from both property developers and from their own shoddy construction.

Recently, though, Golden Gai seems to be undergoing a mini-renaissance as a new generation of bar masters and mistresses takes over some of the shoebox establishments. Most bars continue to welcome regulars only (and charge exorbitant prices to anyone else), but with several places now posting their table and drink charges outside the door, gaijin visitors don’t need to risk being fleeced rotten.

Champion, at Golden Gai’s main entrance off Shiki-no-michi, has no cover charge and all drinks are a bargain ¥500. The catch? You have to endure tone-deaf patrons crooning karaoke for ¥100 a song. Punk rockers will get more of a kick from Hair of the Dogs (¥800 cover charge), marked by a Sex Pistols poster on the door and a thudding soundtrack of rebellious music inside. Another possibility is Albatross G (cover charge ¥300), a dark and slightly sleazy sister bar to the arty Albatross in Omoide Okochō.

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