Japan Today

Bar with all-you-can drink beer and sake + no time limit = limitless bliss

By Casey Baseel

The polite requests for me to exit bars come from the wonderful system called "nomi hodai," where you pay a flat fee and are served as much booze as you like. The standard time limit is two hours, although some places have budget priced 90-minute plans, and others are more generous with three-hour deals. It’s always a downer when the wait staff tells you your time’s up, but after all, they have to cut the customers off at some point, right?

Not at a new bar in Tokyo, where paying the entrance fee gets you an unlimited amount of sake and beer with no time limit.

Sakekurabe is a new bar that just opened up in Shinjuku, Tokyo’s bustling business and entertainment neighborhood. Shinjuku gets divided into two halves by Shinjuku Station, with the east side having the wilder image as a result of being home to cheaper bars and strip clubs.

West Shinjuku is where you’ll find the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, the fancy hotels, and the headquarters of respected companies like Subaru. The vibe is more mature, which is maybe why the owners of Sakekurabe feel secure taking the leash off of booze hounds by giving them an all-you-can-drink plan with no time limit.

The bar’s pricing plan is as simple as it is generous. You pay 4,000 yen to get in, and you can drink as much as you want.

Seriously, that’s it? It can’t be that easy, right? OK, you caught us. There is one tiny little wrinkle to the system. If you get there before 9 p.m. from Sunday to Thursday (excepting pre-holiday Sundays), admission is just 3,500 yen.

So what’s the catch? A meager selection of sake? Nope, that wouldn’t be in keeping with the bar’s name, as Sakekurabe means “Sake comparison.” The owner, Mr Hayashi, keeps 60 varieties of Japan’s indigenous spirit of hand, including vintages from Aomori, Yamagata, Fukui, Saga, and Mie Prefectures.

Still, there are a few corners that needed to be cut, although almost all of them come with a silver lining. First, while Sakekurabe will provide you with everything you need to give your liver a strenuous workout, don’t expect them to help you fill your belly. There’s no kitchen, but thankfully Hayashi’s enlightened compensation is to let customers bring in any outside food, or drinks, they want. Hit up one of Shinjuku’s many convenience stores or supermarkets, and you’re good to go.

Second, there’s no table service. While Sakekurabe has 40 seats, patrons fill their own glasses. There’s even a button-operated beer server if you’d rather your alcohol be barley-based than rice-based.

You probably shouldn’t expect much in the way of decorations, either, as while Sakekurabe’s website contains an extensive photo gallery of its sake bottles, Hayashi doesn’t see a benefit in posting even a single shot of the bar’s interior. Thankfully, it’s located on the top floor of its building, which means there’s a view of the Tokyo skyline, plus a TV for patrons to watch, too.

Finally, Sakekurabe’s website indicates smoking is not allowed inside the bar. This is likely to be a mark against it for some, but a definite plus for non-smokers looking to enjoy a selection of high-class sake and the ability to breathe deeply, always a rarity when going out for a drink in Japan.

But just what inspired Hayashi to buck the tradition of encouraging customers to slam back a night’s worth of drinking as quickly as possible, so that they can be shuffled out and replaced with a fresh batch of paying customers? “Here, you can drink whatever you like, as much as you like, and at the pace you like,” he explains. “If my customers can enjoy themselves doing that, then I’m happy too.”

Definitely a kind-hearted bargain, and one that we can’t imagine having any trouble keeping up our end of.

Restaurant information

Sakekurabe / さけくらべ Address: Tokyo-to, Shinjuku-ku, Nishi Shinjuku 1-13-7, Yamatoya Building 10th Floor 東京都新宿区西新宿1-13-7 大和家ビル10F Open 5:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m.

Source: Shinjuku Keizai Shimbun

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So I says to my 2 buddies, Homer and Barney, "Boys, we got a new watering hole!'

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I'm wondering if anyone has ever said "Golly, this 3 hour nomihodai just isn't enough!"

0 ( +2 / -2 )

An interior photo, among others at the following link, may give an indication of the atmosphere. There may be no chairs for those who prefer (and those who don't prefer) standing during their all-you-can-drink sessions: http://r.gnavi.co.jp/j2an5afp0000/photo/

Personally, I think it could be cheaper and more comfortable to buy an ishobin and haul it on over to Chuo Park, apart for the need of an anorak in winter and personal mosquito netting in summer.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

so basically an old office space with a fridge of sake for 4000Y standing... you better off getting a big bottle or two at that supermarket where you get the snacks and just head home with your m8s...

4 ( +4 / -0 )

The place looks horrible. Like an old office or something.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I love the lights.. drinking there would be perfect continuation of that "cant escape anywhere" psychosis ... its basically like going to a tiny office to drink....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

That is the most depressing interior for an establishment I think I've ever seen.

Is their business model 1) rent a space 2) go to Nitori - 100,000 yen MAX for furnishings 3) Get whatever Daiei has in the nihonshu department. 4) That's it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Always thought nomihodai was a blatant con, especially in normal izakayas or restaurants where you pay 3000yen with an average beer being 600ish. You'd have to really want to drink at least about 7 beers in 2 house to make it worthwhile so unless you really want to get very wasted very quickly it's a complete waste of money, especially in this alcoholically lightweight country. The one I'm going to tomorrow at 900yen for 2 hours is where it's at. I don't know the price of the average drink at this place though, and it's probably higher than 600 so this one might be a alright deal, especially with no time limit.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Pandabelle, i dont think they actually went to Nitori.. those desks look like they came with the office, they did seem to have sold the chairs though covering for a second hand fridge from the auction

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Oikawa, I read it to be that this bar only operates a nonihoudai system, you can't buy drinks individually.

I know many people, myself included that can comfortably drink more than 7 drinks in 2 hours. Not sure that's anything to be proud of though....

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Yeah, I guarantee you it's a filthy, miserable hole like 原価 in 五反田. The first time I went to 原価、it confirmed for me that "if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Stewart, yeah I was just thinking about the rough average price, which would probably be more than the bog standard 600ish for a chunama, and as I said if there's no time limit that's fine. It's these time limited deals I think are completely ridiculous. I know that people can drink 7 in 2 hours but I don't think anyone really wants to. You can easily survive a good 4 or 5 hours in an izakaya and pay less than you would for a 2 hour nomihodai, especially as with the initial seating charge the price per drink goes down dramatically the more you have. Why pay more and have less time to spend there? I hazard nomihodai works well here just because of the group mentality.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

That is a little pricey and a bar full of alcoholics and drunks is going to attract a lot of classy girls... I wonder if some will fill up their flasks for the ride home.. no smoking is good you can always go to McDonald's and have a snack and a smoke.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

yakuza front?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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