When you visit Tokyo, a visit to one of its many live bars is a must. Mingling with the Japanese clientele, you can enjoy live performances by singers from abroad or from Japan. The bars listed here all have their own atmosphere. I’ve tried to make the most diverse list as possible: some bars are hip, serving interesting kinako-lattes while you listen to an a capella singer, others are famous, fancy bars with well-known jazz and blues artists performing on stage while still others are smokey old jazz cafes which leave you wondering if the furniture is older than the visitors, or the other way around. Check the links for more information on each of the bars.
Doubtlessly one of the most famous lice jazz bars around the world. Since they opened up business in Tokyo it’s been popular with both foreigners (which means English speaking staff!) and Japanese alike. At Blue Note you can enjoy delicious food and drink in front of some of the world’s top live acts. Reservations are necessary, so call +81 (0)3-5485-0088 in advance. Very classy bar, ideal for a date.
Who hasn’t seen Sofia Coppola’s movie ‘Lost in Translation’? If you have, you might recognize the dazzling interior when you step into the New York Bar. If not, this famous live bar also offers an unrivalled view of the skyline of Tokyo. The night-time view of the city draws in many people. Couple this view with stellar jazz performances, exquisite food, and some top shelf liquors and youhave the ingredients of a memorable evening.
Tokyo’s Cotton Club is based on the original New York Cotton Club that drew celebrities and large numbers of other big stars in the 1920s. A sophisticated French menu coupled with warm soul and R&B music makes this a perfect spot for a good night out. Many artists who perform at Cotton Club are internationally recognized, but also famous Japanese artists, whom you might have never heard of, take the stage. Early booking secures a front row seat, but the venue is rather small so even seats at the back have a decent view on the stage.
Bauhaus in Roppongi has been a popular venue with Japanese and foreign lovers of rock music since they opened in 1981.
Bauhaus’ staff have been jamming together for over 20 years, specializing in 70s and 80s rock (think Eric Clapton, The Beatles,
Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, etc..) Sessions after 23:00 tend to be especially good. You can request your favourite song and from the waiters. Or you can join one of their guitar lesson recitals (reservation required).
A hidden gem in the hip Shimokitazaka neighbourhood, Roots Music Cafe ‘Artist’ features interesting live acts every day from 19:00.
The tiny café gives a very homely and intimate atmosphere; there is just enough space for a singer plus a guitar. They feature mostly Japanese upcoming singers, so you will have a chance to witness some live music you won’t easily find at home.
A slightly younger crowd gathers at live bar Eggman in Shibuya. Descend the spiral staircase down to the basement to hear rock, blues or light jazz musicians get their groove on. Most of the acts are local and of the lighter, sweeter variety. Tickets available at the door, but get there early to make sure they’re not sold out. Most shows commence at around 19:00.
This intimate live bar in Shimokitazawa always books a nice mix of both up-and-coming and more established local bands that play bigger venues, mainly rock music. Overseas acts also perform here on occasion.
has been around for more than a decade and is exceedingly popular, so it’s best to arrive early to save a seat.
This live house, conveniently located just outside Shinjuku station, focuses on old skool soul, RnB and disco classics. Their in-house performers are almost all Japanese, many of them covering American (soul) idols of the ‘70s and ‘80s. If you’re up for a funky night of dancing under the shimmering lights of the disco ball, this is the place to go!
This Roppongi live house hosts so many different genres, it’s hard to name a main genre. Most performers are Japanese who’ve
already accumulated somewhat of a fan base. Their schedule tends to be irregular, so if you go there for the live music (instead of for their dinners, which are also recommendable) you might like to check ahead.
This bar (or would you call it a cafe) is without doubt the strangest in my list. If you didn’t know it was there, you would surely pass it without even knowing of its existence. But I think you shouldn't. Why? The unrivaled atmosphere created by the eccentric jazz and blues loving clientele, combined with the owner, hidden behind a counter so full of stuff you can hardly see him.
Violon has a piano in the back on which ‘sometimes’ (according to the owner) people come and play a bit. There is a live schedule on the website, but this is updated so irregularly that you might as well not. The menu is meagre, with only three choices: coffee, ice coffee and soft drinks. However, you will find you coffee accompanied by a small bottle of liquor to mix into your drink to taste. The only food on the menu is Violon’s famous cheesecake (which, according to the owner, is also ‘sometimes’ available). However, if you don’t have a sweet tooth, you are welcome to bring your own snacks along. Oh, and did I mention the interior? It’s rad.
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