The hidden bars, clubs and restaurants of Tokyo are intentionally hard to find. Here is a sample of the hundreds that are concealed behind unmarked doors and down shadowy stairwells. If possible, call ahead for detailed directions and, in some cases, make reservations to guarantee admission.
The Tokyo outpost of the Parisian fashion hang-out, Le Baron (Aoyama Center Building, Minami-Aoyama Minato-ku; 81-3-3408-3665; www.lebaron.jp), is one of the few intimate dance clubs in the city. Owned partly by design superstar Marc Newson, it is done in high bordello kitsch—with gentlemen’s club leather couches and lots of burlesque red.
In the shadows of the high-rises and train tracks in Shibuya is Nonbeiyokocho, or Drunkard’s Alley (1-25-10 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku), a cluster of alleyway bars that can fit 5-10 people. There are no exact addresses, so peek through the peepholes before entering. Piano Bar (81-3-5467-0258) is out of King Arthur, with red velvet-covered walls and a small piano. Tight Bar (81-3-3499-7668) is a retro-future lounge with white tiles and rounded, space-age windows. And Shisui (81-3-3407-2371) is a pre-war throwback with a worn wooden bar and an upstairs VIP room popular with the skater crowd.
The Hong Kong vegetable street market hides a handful of traditional pocket-sized bars, including Oiwa (3-22-2 Koenji Kita north; 81-90-9348-1050), where the owner, an older bohemian artist with a Jack Kerouac air, serves traditional cocktails such as shochu and soya milk and whips up buckwheat noodles and omelettes on a tiny stove.
Casba (Wakamatsu Building B1F 2-14-15, Higashi Shibuya-Ku; 81-3-5467-5402), a retro-furnished basement lounge on a nondescript street, picks up after 2am, when the fashion and design crowds stumble in.
Cha Cha Hana (1-1-1 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku; 81-3-5292-2933) is a lively restaurant in a small house at the end of a stone footpath. It serves nouvelle delicacies such as grilled Japanese yam and yolk with bonito flakes and potato dumplings stuffed with scallops and served with a wood-ear crab sauce.
Knock on the grey metal door of this white-tiled apartment building to find Higashiyama Gantan (Sun Royal Higashiyama 109, 1-8-6 Higashiyama, Meguro-ku; 81-3-3791-4807). It is an industrial-minimalist bar with private dining rooms popular with fashionistas and “sneakerheads” who swoon over the sashimi and techan nabe (a rich stew).
The no-frills, hard-to-find Sushi Kanesaka (8-10-3 Ginza, Chuo-ku; 81-3-5568-4411) is a favourite of the artist Takashi Murakami. One bite of the premium grade fish and perfectly textured rice, prepared by the 35-year-old sushi chef and owner, Shinji Kanesaka, makes it clear why.
IF YOU CAN’T FIND HIDDEN TOKYO
Don’t despair. For a price, there are concierge services that will hand-lead you to secret, impossible-to-find spots. Bespoke Tokyo (03-3462-2663, www.bespoketokyo.jp), run by two British expatriates, charges $84 (about Rs3,400) an hour (minimum three hours). NYT