Follow us through the backstreets of Shibuya, as we explore the lesser-known music, coffee and mixology hangouts of one of Tokyo’s most famous neighborhoods. From record stores frequented by local DJs, to hole-in-the-wall coffee stands and bars serving up some of Japan’s finest craft beer, discover a Shibuya that you have never seen before.
Music to Your Ears
Despite its extinction in most other major cities, an endangered species still thrives in Shibuya: the record store. Find them scattered about the back streets off Inokashira-dori. Next Records is packed with neatly cataloged racks of vinyl, and offers disco, soul, boogie, and hiphop. Across the street there’s Face Records specializing in jazz, soul, funk, and rock. Just down the hill there is Manhattan Records, a 30-year mainstay of DJs and vinyl-heads alike, serving up mostly hip-hop and R&B. For electronic music, check out Technique, just a few blocks away and focusing on techno, house, and electro. They have turntables to sample tunes, and it’s only ¥300 for a beer (or a Red Bull).
There are also many live houses strewn about Shibuya, some of the most prolific of which are Chelsea Hotel and Star Lounge. These neighboring venues mostly put on Japanese acts, but the genres range from rock to disco to house. For a more casual live music experience check out Music From BYG (the BYG stands for “Beautiful Young Generation”), a cool and gritty restaurant, bar, and live house hidden amidst the love hotels of Dogenzaka. Equipped with an atmosphere akin to a dive bar, the venue puts on mostly rock acts, and has been at it since 1969! JBS (standing for Jazz Blues Soul), meanwhile, sits at the top of Dogenzaka Street and beckons you with promises of great tunes from the owner’s vast collection of vinyl records. Hidden behind a bare and intimidating door just off Center-Gai lies Pres Jazz Bar. You descend the stairs into what seems at first like a concrete cave, only to be gently lulled by dreamy tones of vinyl-spun jazz. Finally, the highlight of our musical voyage through Shibuya is Lion, a mecca for classical music. Conversation is all but forbidden in the cathedral-like hall of the café. A glorious sound system impregnates the reverent silence with classical pieces carefully selected for your aural pleasure.
At the top of Dogenzaka Street, sip on a latte or green smoothie at Fab Café while the staff laser etch a design on your laptop or serve you laser-customized macarons. Just down the street is literal hole-in-the-wall barista stand About Life Coffee Brewers. Way on the other side of the borough, high up the hill flanking the east side of Shibuya Station lies Coffee House Nishiya. This European-style café serves an assortment of coffee-based smoothies on top of the more usual café fare. Their sandwiches are also quite good, with a fresh homemade feel and flavor. Heading over to Jinnan, a hill north of the crossing leading towards Yoyogi Park and Meiji Shrine, you’ll find RoastedCoffee Laboratory, a serious and chic café with a pleasant patio for coffee consumption. For a more lounge-like feel, Jinnan Café lies nearby, with a calm atmosphere, lush plants and warm tones assuaging your urban weariness.
Prefer tea? Then check out Gen Gen An Tea Stand – their iced green tea with lemongrass is delicious and refreshing. For atmosphere above all else, And People Café transports you out of the city and into a patio garden in a suburban home. Try their fruit cocktails over lunch and then take a nap on the comfy patio sofa.If you’d rather stimulate a different sense, then try North Village Shisha, a trendy shisha café on the edge of Dogenzaka, adorned with expressionist paintings of pop-culture figures.
Craft Beer and Cocktails
Shibuya also offers a veritable cornucopia of craft beer, starting with Craftheads Craft Beer and Bourbon, who offer up a nice selection of domestic microbrews from prefectures as far flung as Hokkaido. (They also do a pretty authentic pulled pork!) Other craft beer joints include OL by Oslo Brewing Co. at the far end of Center Gai shopping street, and Mikkeller nestled between a shrine and love hotel deep in Dogenzaka. Finally, Good Beer Faucets offers an extensive selection of imported and domestic beers, with a simple atmosphere and a good price.
For cocktails, we recommend Ishinohana, an upscale underground (literally) cocktail bar in the basement of an absurdly narrow but otherwise nondescript office building east of Shibuya Station. The bar’s master boasts an impressive pedigree, winning the nationwide bartender championship in 2002.
For good food with your booze, check out Aldgate, a solid impression of a British pub, complete with ale and bangers and mash. For the wine-loving Francophile there’s Cent Trente Neuf, an inviting French restaurant serving paté, freshly baked buns, and a wide selection of wines.
Lukasz Palka is the co-founder of EYExplore, www.eyexplore.com