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.
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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