Want a funky and inexpensive evening of bar hopping and live music? Shimo-kitazawa is my favorite place to find decent food, eccentric bars, excellent craft beer, and awesome music in places so small, you’ll feel like you’re part of the performance

But first, let’s go to the bunny café. For about ¥1000, we can go into the back room where all kinds of rabbits are roaming freely, and pet them as much as we like. They’re surprisingly friendly (especially compared to the aloof denizens of the various Tokyo cat cafés). Afterwards, let’s return to the restaurant area to enjoy the coffee/tea included in our visit.

Hi there!
Hi there!

After we wander around looking into all the fun shops, we’ll be ready for some food-bevs and entertainment. There are sidewalk signs pointing the way up to bars and eateries on the upper floors along all the streets and alleys. If one looks interesting, let’s go in! Unlike the tiny bars in Shinjuku’s Golden Gai, in Shimo-kita the places without live music usually don’t have a cover charge. Plus, they’re more relaxed about welcoming non-Japanese as well as locals. It’s unlikely you’ll find anyone who speaks English, but it’s not really necessary – eating, drinking & merrymaking are a universal language.

Here are a few of my favorite haunts:


Live Music for Eight

This tiny basement bar serves up live jazz most nights of the week. The music is always excellent, and because the place is so small (seats about 15), you really get up close and personal with the musicians! Cover charge is only around $15 plus a drink.


The Vinegar Bar & Café

At Marusan, homemade fruit vinegars are used to mix refreshing alcoholic or non-alcoholic sours. The menu features delicious fresh dishes made with seasonal specialties. It’s in Japanese only, but everything on it is absolutely delicious, and the friendly staff will help you choose.
As you walk through the streets, it’s never a mistake to try little restaurants that strike your fancy, like this open-air yakitori (skewered chicken) café.
And we can’t leave without checking out the latest wild offerings at Village Vanguard. It’s stuffed to the rafters with prank gifts, I-need-that items, books, magazines, and more.
The little backstreets of Shimo-kitazawa always make me feel like I’m in Real Japan, far from the tourist centers, mingling with people who have lived there all their lives.


Nearby destinations: Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, Shibuya, Yoyogi Park

Jonelle Patrick writes mysteries set in Tokyo. And her fourth book, Painted Doll, hits Detective Kenji Nakamura much too close to home…

It's been nine years since she didn't make it home, but now Tokyo Detective Kenji Nakamura's life is about to unravel... Read more
When Tokyo Detective Kenji Nakamura’s phone rings with the news that his mother’s death ten years ago wasn’t an accident, his world begins to unravel. New evidence links her to…Read more

PAINTED DOLL book trailer (1:08)