by William Casper
Nestled deep amongst Shinjuku’s Kabukicho district is a little gem of a bar called Araku. On the second floor, up a flight of narrow stairs, Araku is a complete (and welcome) change of pace from Shinjuku’s hustling nightlife.
Despite being a wet Wednesday there is still a decent crowd as I enter and the lovely wooden décor that blends well with the red of the carpets and fittings, immediately relaxes this weary soul. I settle down for the evening on a comfortable seat and in lighting kind enough to soften ages worst ravages. I start with a glass of decent house red (¥600). Drink portions and prices are all decent and there is a good wine menu specializing in Australian wines. From the food menu I’m tempted by the Australian lamb stew (¥1,200) but settle for the cheese plate (¥900) and tortilla chips (¥500). The service is friendly and efficient. Araku is one of those rare places that allows intimacy in a crowd and as Tom Waites whispers over the sound system it’s easy to get lost in your own little world. Some striking black and white photographs on one wall turn out to be an exhibition and fit the ambience well. A trip to the men’s room reveals a clean, sweet smelling space—always a good sign. Araku stays open until 5am every night, perfect for the first train home and though I am sorely tempted to stay all night the Odakyu line beckons.
There is a rather hefty cover charge at ¥800 per person and although perfectly understandable— pleasant atmospheres like Araku cost a lot to maintain and there are too many people quite content to enjoy them while cradling a solitary drink for hours—I do fear it may prevent some from experiencing what is an altogether excellent and late night drinking experience.