Getting buzzed in the town where shrines and stars add history and culture to the nights’ decadence.

Bar Zu-Lu

Zu-Lu has a peaceful vibe with the lighting shining down over the bar counter, the drink being the star of this night’s show. I learned the bartenders there were seasoned experts on the area and almost proud of their lack of interest in the tourist spots.  The bar has the usual maddening prices that cannot be fully comprehended due to the lack of the drinks menu. So we played it safe with some ¥700 red wine and ¥600 Heartland beer. The counter seats up to six, and there are some lounge-like sofas in the back for bigger groups.

2F, 2-8-10 Kaminarimon, Taito-ku. Mon to Sat, 8pm-5am. Tel: 03-3843-5860.

Don (どん)

Asakusa has a reputation of being a hirunomi town—a place for daytime drinking. With this in mind, we first headed down to Asakusa Koen Hon Dori, known by locals as “hoppi street,” alluding to the favorite drink of ojisans who frequent the area. We walked down the street trying to gauge which place was most popular, assuming that would be the best. The street is lined with izakayas, all appearing externally similar with plastic awnings to save visitors from the cold outdoors. The problem was that all the places were either full or empty. We found a fine middle ground with DON, a small izakaya serving beer at a hefty ¥600; sadly, Asakusa’s allure among tourists resulted in an increase in drink prices. Still, we were able to get a sense of the local vibe and ordered some food to line our stomachs for the night’s session.

2-3-17 Asakusa, Taito-ku. Tel: 03-3843-0028.

Hogeisen (捕鯨船)

We found ourselves lost in a street full of pictures of celebrities by each lamppost—a reminder of Asakusa’s roots as a performer’s town. Inspired to not let our inhibitions hinder our flow, we stumbled into a bar named Hogeisen, a place we only later learned could be translated as “whale-catching ship,” and with that name, I’m sure you can guess what the main dish on the menu was. Morally unsure, we did what we always did in such times and pondered the drinks menu. The oolong high was available at just ¥550. That might seem standard, but the preparation of the drink made you feel you were getting your money’s worth, as it was poured to the brim. The restaurant is lined with signatures of various celebrities, and there are multiple pictures of Kitano Takeshi himself, with one being of him inside this very izakaya. Not sure whether there was more to the story or if they were merely obsessed, I asked the staff who let me know the owner of the bar was a senpai (mentor) of Mr. Kitano himself.

2-4-3 Asakusa, Taito-ku. Mon to Fri 5-10pm (Thu off), Sat & Sun 4-10pm. Tel: 03-3844-9114.

Okada (おか田)

This yakitori restaurant has a trendy vibe with waiters wearing all-white, chef-like attire—a contrast to the grimy baggy shirts and bandanas of izakayas. This is a place to dine and drink in peace and comfort. I ordered some Okinawan shochu with soda at ¥600, known as “haisai sour”—“haisai” being an enthusiastic Okinawan greeting. Not wanting to lose ourselves in the oblivion, we remembered the restaurant is famed for its yakitori so we ordered some white chicken liver sticks at ¥280. It’s quite rare to eat this part of the chicken even with the “anything goes” eating attitude of Japan, and the taste was a reminder of the appeal of the unknown—even if that means paying more than usual.

2-5-8 Asakusa, Taito-ku. Mon to Fri 5-10pm (Wed off), Sat & Sun 12-10pm. Tel: 03-3844-0965.

More than just a tourist town, Asakusa has its share of hidden dives catering to those who seek an alcohol-infused night on the town.