There’s no shortage of places to knock back a few cold ones in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district. With the busiest train station in the world serving the neighborhood, Shinjuku has a constant stream of businesspeople, shoppers, and sightseers coming in and out of the area, and when they get thirsty, there’s block after block of skyscrapers packed with bars and pubs waiting for them.
But there’s only one bar like Hitori, which is a bar for only one-person groups.
Written right on the sign on Hitori’s heavy wooden door is a notice saying “A bar limited to parties of one.” So while anyone is welcome, you’ve got to come unaccompanied. Heading out with a date, friend, or coworker? Sorry, you’ll have to find somewhere else to grab a drink.
A look at the street entrance and interior of the seventh-floor Hitori, which means “alone” in Japanese.
Reporter Mariko, who’s a veteran of such by-herself excursions as a solo sakura party, stopped by Hitori to check it out for, and by, herself. When she arrived, there were about a half-dozen other customers sitting along the counter in Hitori’s cozy, smoke-free interior. She’d imagined that a bar that doesn’t let you bring other people might with you might be a gloomy, oppressively silent place, but to her surprise the customers, who’d all arrived separately, of course, were cheerfully chatting like old friends.
Likewise, the staff was cordial and welcoming. “Hello,” the bartender greeted her. “Please, have a seat here,” he said, while motioning to an empty spot at the bar.
Mariko ordered a drink, but wasn’t sure what to do next. Should she jump into the conversation that was already going on, or wait until someone felt like talking to her? Sensing her confusion, the bartender got the ball rolling as he set her drink down in front of her. “Is this your first time here?” he asked. “How did you find out about us?”
As Mariko answered, the other customers chimed in with their own stories too, and before Mariko knew it, she’d been folded into their conversation. Rather than being a holding area for individual solitude, Hitori has a laid-back, accepting atmosphere, and the prevailing attitude is “If someone shows up, we’ll talk with them.” That made Mariko’s evening very different from some of our team’s previous “Tokyo alone” experiences, such as drinking alone at a revolving sushi restaurant or spending the night alone in a love hotel. As a matter of fact, aside from those first few nervous moments when she walked through Hitori’s door, Mariko didn’t really feel like she’d spent much time really “alone” at all, because of how kind and inclusive everyone was.
A few of the other customers were also first-timers, but there were also some repeat customers in the mix. Mariko asked what it was that everyone liked about the place, and some of their answers were:
“When you’re here, it’s sort of like a mix of being out by yourself and being out with others. It feels just right, and you get to talk with a lot of different people.”
“At other bars, if I talk to women I don’t know, sometimes they think I’m trying to hit on them and get upset. Here, we all just talk naturally with each other, and it’s easy-going and fun.”
“I go to other bars too, but sometimes there are groups of coworkers sitting next to me. The bosses end up preaching to the others about work, and it’s exhausting to have to hear that. But because everyone here comes by themselves, that sort of thing doesn’t happen.”
Speaking of work, Hitori’s owner had never worked as a bartender prior to opening the bar last year. “But that means I wasn’t bound by what people usually think a bar should be like,” he says, “and so I was able to think of what kind of place I wanted Hitori to be on my own. I want it to be a bar that offers customers a fun chance to meet new people.”
So even though Hitori’s unique admission system means it’s unlikely to be a place where everyone knows your name when you sit down, odds are they’ll all know it by the time you leave.
Hitori / ひとり
Address: Tokyo-to, Shinjuku-ku, Kabukicho 2-46-7, Dai-san Hirasawa Building 7th floor
Open 7 p.m.-2 a.m. (Monday, Wednesday), 7 p.m.-midnight (Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday), 7 p.m.-5 a.m. (Friday, Saturday)
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