You can find whatever you want in Japan, and bars are no exception. They have every kind you can imagine, and quite a few you couldn’t. But if you’re looking for something a little different, forget the expat pubs, live houses, gaming bars, and stylish lounges filled with obscure vinyl records and Americana. Some of the best Japanese bars are Korean.
Poramu is located in Taito City, an old section of central Tokyo, near Ueno Station. This isn’t a trendy part of town, but it really should be. History, art galleries, clothing and souvenir shops, ancient pagodas, opera house, art schools, traditional fishmongers, and the long green stretch of Ueno park—what more could you ask for? A Korean bar, that’s what!
Poramu is a busy pub where you can enjoy both Japanese and Korean food—the bibimbap is especially good. The space is stylish but unassuming, with lots of dark wood and subtle ambience. The bar is lively but not too loud, the perfect place to hang out with friends or take a date. Sit at the counter or at one of 20 table seats to watch sports, drink, and hang out. Like most bars in Japan, smoking is permitted, but there’s a terrace outside if you want fresh air.
Korean Bar Poramu, 1 Chome-41-4 Asakusa, Taito City, Tokyo 111-0032 | (+81) 3 3842 4131
Like many other Korean bars, this one’s in Shin-Okubo, a small hopping Koreatown in and around Shinjuku (it’s also home to many Nepali nationals). Aside from bars, you’ll find heaps of Korean street food, karaoke, markets, cosmetic stores, restaurants, K-pop shops, more than 12,000 Korean nationals, and many Japanese of Korean descent (Zainichi Koreans).
Showbox is one of several K-pop nightclubs in the neighbourhood. If you’re a super-fan, or just want to experience something unusual, come here to see a revolving list of up-and-coming K-pop (or J-pop!) stars. Hear them sing and dance, scream along with the fans, or just enjoy the spectacle—the intense devotion of the fans is perhaps more enticing than the performances themselves.
Showbox is a two-story venue. The live-house is on the ground floor, along with meet-and-greets, films screenings, and other events. The idols practice their routines and/or obsessively groom themselves on the second. The venue also features a wide variety of Korean and Japanese food and is open until 4 am. Catch the latest K- or J-pop acts before their three-week expiration date is over!
Showbox, 169-0072 Tokyo, Shinjuku City, Okubo, 1 Chome−17−17-8 1F | (+81) 3 3208 4522
Live Bar Blue has it all, almost literally: bar, café, live music, a large menu of Korean food, electronic darts, billiards, the big games on large screens, Japanese-Korean exchange events, and more. The food and drinks are cheap by Tokyo standards, and they feature great coffee and inventive cocktails.
This is a spacious, vibrant bar that draws a diverse crowd of regulars and first-timers. Look for a large blue neon sign outside, pointing down to this basement bar. Located in Shin-Okubo, Live Bar Blue has an international vibe—bits of Korea, Japan, Britain and the US all rolled into one. It’s open from 7 pm to 5 am, and the live music selection includes blues, rock, pop and jazz.
Bar Blue, 169-0073 Tokyo, Shinjuku City, Hyakunincho, 1 Chome−7−15 | (+81) 3 3209 1578
This is a cosy, chic, understated bar with a clever name. You’ll find Korean Bar in Shinagawa, one of Tokyo’s “special” wards, cities within the city that have more autonomy than the other areas. With a population of 400,000, Shinagawa is in a business district filled with embassies at the southern end of the city, on Tokyo Bay. Despite the rather corporate and officious neighbourhood, you’ll actually find refuge here.
Sit at the small bar and be pampered by one of the friendly bartenders, who may be wearing either Korean hanbok or traditional Japanese yukata. Korean Bar is a mellow place to drink soju—Korean spirit made from grains, potatoes or tapioca—sake, or beer. They also stock a wide range of whiskeys, both foreign and domestic, and serve Korean bar snacks.
Korean Bar, 141-0022 Tokyo, Shinagawa City, 21 1-21-3-2 F | (+81) 3 6325 3331
Thankfully, the locals simply call this place Han-ari. You can’t miss it—a traditional dark wood building with a giant golden eel over the entrance. Located in Shin-Okubo, Han-ari is an izakaya, Japanese for “sake place,” where customers come to drink, eat (fried food, little dishes, and bar snacks, for the most part), and socialise. Like most izakayas, this one is casual, friendly, comfortable, and welcomes all types—foreigners, children, families, friends, smokers, even loud hard-drinking salarymen.
The space is large, with room for 100 and private rooms for up to 50. You can get a table, sit at the counter, or take a date to a “couples seat.” Han-ari specialises in Korean cuisine and seafood. This is the perfect place to host a party or come for the all-you-can-drink specials. They have a great selection of soju, beer, sake or shochu (a Japanese spirit distilled from barley, buckwheat, or rice and brown sugar), all of which pair well with the spicy rice cakes, kimchi, cuttlefish, vinegar seaweed and dried squid—delicious, if not your typical bar snacks.
Kankokushikisashimihanari, 2-chome-31-16 Ōkubo Shinjuku City Tokyo-to | (+81) 3 3205 3231
This excellently named bar is in Shin-Okobu and, like many of its neighbours, has a K-pop theme. Staffed by clean-cut, handsome, young Korean men who speak fluent Japanese, this is the place to come if you want to gush about your favourite Korean idols.
Enjoy some karaoke—with Korean and Japanese offerings, of course—request your favourite K-pop tune in the bar area, or try one of their superb house cocktails. Bad Boy would be a little creepy if it wasn’t so wholesome and safe; thankfully, it’s fun and campy instead. The space is chic and clean, bathed in blue light, and you’ll find friendly people here. The bar is open seven days a week, from 8 pm to 6 am, which is ideal for the idol-obsessed.
Korean Bad Boy, Okubo Shinjuku City Tokyo 1-16-16 2 F
Equal parts nightclub and restaurant, Kung is a late-night gathering spot in Minato, near Roppongi and Akasaka. The bar is chic and sophisticated without being stuffy. Come here for an elegant but casual night out.
Featuring Korean, Japanese, and fusion cuisine, you can enjoy pan-Asian comfort food in an upscale setting. The spicy hot pot, barbecued pork, and bento boxes are especially good. They’ve also got karaoke rooms: quiet nooks with subtle yellow or blue lighting and decor that’s minimal but funky. Want a private seating area with a chandelier and a comfy sofa? Want all the above, but also want to munch on dried squid? They’ve got it. The best of both worlds, as western philosopher Hannah Montana would say.
Kung always delivers the unexpected. Instead of high stools at the bar, you get a low-slung counter with easy chairs. They serve a wide variety of Korean spirits, Japanese drinks, and fine European wines. Try a bottle of baekse-ju for something special. It’s a “medical” fermented wine, made from rice and flavoured with ginseng and other herbs. According to some, regular doses of baekse-ju will make you live for 100 years! If you don’t know what to try, let the bartenders make a recommendation. They’re knowledgeable, friendly, multilingual, and best yet, will whip up a range of bespoke cocktails infused with fruit and flowers.
Kung Korean Fusion Restaurant & Bar, 1-7-11 1F, Nishiazabu, Minato 106-0031 Tokyo Prefecture | (+81) 3 6459 2696