Boys Night Out
Tokyo?s a pretty unique city, and the gay district (surprise,
surprise) is no exception. While you?ll find similarities with its
counterparts in other countries, the ni-chome area in Shinjuku ? the
heart of gay Tokyo ? has enough surprises for even the most ardent
Born out of a post-WWII red light district, no-one can say for sure
exactly when ni-chome switched from a place for guys seeking girls, to
one where just about anything goes. Suffice to say that, today, it has
developed into what is probably the most densely-packed gay ?village?
in the world. You might not realize it at first, though: most of the
establishments in ni-chome are shuttered up during the day and not
always that much more visible at night. The overseas traveler can thus
be fooled into thinking that Tokyo gay life consists of only several,
westerner-oriented bars; in fact, there are more than three hundred
establishments, catering for all tastes. These mainly consist of small
counter bars with karaoke systems and themes ranging from the
outrageous to more upmarket.
All of the bars featured in this issue are gaijin-friendly. It?s
unfortunate but true that many smaller places may get nervous about
large groups of foreign queens barging in. This is often less to do
with racism and more with the fact that owners worry about speaking
English, or about large groups of unknown people disturbing other
clientele. But in my experience, if you venture somewhere by yourself
or with a friend ? and especially if you?ve been introduced by a
Japanese pal ? then most places will treat you as warmly and
courteously as they would any native guest.
If the foreigner-friendly (male) gay scene in Tokyo had a grande
doyenne, this would be it. Though it’s hampered slightly by the
?boys-only? door policy, for those brave enough to leave their
girl-friends at home, GB is a surefire way to meet a huge range of
Japanese and Western guys, and is traditionally the first stop for gay
newcomers to Tokyo.
Named, appropriately enough, after Ginger Rogers (Ginger Bar ? you
couldn’t make it up), GB’s walls are decorated with golden age
Hollywood stars: all very camp, in the best sense of the word. The
atmosphere is good and the music on offer does not disappoint ? there’s
always a good mix of past and present gay classics (but no dance floor
? GB is definitely a bar, not a club!). The four main staff all speak
good English and make a real effort with customers.
GB is normally busy from around 9ish until the last train leaves, and it?s usually standing room only on the weekend.
Free entry, boys only (sorry, ladies!)
Drinks: ?00 (?00 for soft drinks)
Sun-Thu: 20:00-2:00, Fri-Sat: 20:00-3:00
Shinjuku Plaza Building
If GB is the alcoholic old dame of ni-chome, then Arty is her younger,
tartier sister. One look at the clientele will confirm this: while GB
caters for all ages, the crowd at Arty is usually made up of younger
guys out for a dance. Younger girls, too: up until recent years Arty
was also off limits to our girl-friends, but thankfully this policy is
no more. Boy girls, trannies, whoever… the more the merrier. The
d?or is curiously nouveau western, and the music is usually
contemporary dance/R&B/gay classics. With a relatively spacious
dance floor (well, for ni-chome) and a range of seating areas, Arty is
always packed on Fridays, Saturdays and holidays.
Free entry, except on special event nights (held once or twice a month, usually ?000-1500 with one or two drinks).
Drinks: ?00~ Food is also available.
Tue-Thu: 20:00-Late, Fri-Sat: 20:00-5:00
Advocates is a small corner bar located halfway down Naka-dori, the
central street that runs through Tokyo?s gay village. With little room
for seating inside the bar itself, most people end up sitting or
standing around the tables outside. While small in size, Advocates
certainly attracts the crowds: on the weekend, it’s surrounded by so
many people you’d think half of Naka-dori was drinking there.
There is no door policy: all are welcome. However, the bar staff are
(understandably) touchy about people standing outside drinking things
not bought from the bar ? put that can of conbini chu-hai away, now…
Open every night, 18:00-Late
Papi Chulos is a relative newcomer to ni-chome, but is already proving
itself a firm favorite with the regular crowd. Located on the 8th floor
of a Naka-dori building near Advocates, it initially seems compact but
is actually pretty spacious inside. The bar is run by the far too
personable and youthful Masa-san, who is fluent in English and does his
best to make all feel at home. Music is contemporary/R&B.
There is no door policy at Papi Chulos, and all are welcome.
Open 18:00-3:00 or later most nights
Closed most Mondays
M&T Building 8F
Tucked away in the basement of a building around the corner from GB,
Fuji is popular with old timers, and gets a large number of tourist
visitors. It’s about as close to a regular dark’n’smoky ni-chome bar as
you?ll find on the foreigner-friendly scene. Surprisingly spacious
inside, the atmosphere is generally quite raucous and, while the staff
tend to be a little surly, the service is good. They’ve got karaoke,
too, with a wide range of English songs available in the books, priced
at ?00 apiece. A word of warning for Shirley Bassey wannabes anxious
to get their hands on the mike, though: you might have to wait a while,
as there is usually a queue!
There is no door policy at Fuji, and there are often just as many girls as boys.
Open 19:30-2.30 (until 4:00 on Fri & Sat)
It seems as if Dragon?s been around forever ? for a long time, it was
the sole foreigner-friendly club-style bar with a dancefloor, making it
popular with the late night crowd. The atmosphere can seem a bit grim
for the first-time visitor: it’s very much on the dark/sweaty side, and
the several TV screens around the bar are often showing things you
wouldn?t want to show your mother (well, at least without giving her a
few G&Ts first?). However, the staff are friendly and speak
English, and there is a good range of dance music blasting from the
speakers. While not as busy as it used to be, there are always people
in on the weekend ? or sprawled outside, if they?ve had a particularly
Drinks: ?00 for beer, ?00~ for cocktails.
On the weekend there is usually an entrance charge of ?000, including one drink (sometimes double for girls, so be careful!).
This small but spacious, low-key bar is a good contrast to some of the
more frenetic places in ni-chome. It?s a little more upmarket, too.
There are usually a good number of people in until the last train and,
though it usually doesn’t get many non-Japanese guests, the staff are
welcoming and the service is good. There is an English sign/menu
Drinks: ?00~ (?00 during happy hour). A selection of food is also available.
For club kids, there are regular mega-parties at the gay/mixed Paradise
Ball and Red parties (held at AgeHa). With authorities getting
increasingly strict in Singapore and Bangkok, these events are becoming
something of a fixture on the Asia scene. AgeHa is always a good night
out: there’s a wide range of rooms/dancefloors and chillout zones
(including a pool-side bar) and, often, over 3000 of Tokyo?s most
beautiful people in attendance. But be warned: if you arrive after
midnight, you may end up waiting in line for a few hours!!
Entrance usually around ?500 with 2 drinks
For event dates refer to: