Gimmicky Gourmet Dining around Kabukicho
By Andrew Smith on 5 Sep 2016
There are countless places to enjoy the nightlife in Tokyo, but nothing beats the simplicity of spending the evening wining and dining with a group of great friends. Luckily Kabukicho has a number of fun, bizarre themed izakayas. Dining here can be an exciting, and affordable way for friends to spend a great time with each other on a budget. Among the many, The Lockup, Rokunen-Yonkumi, and Mysterious are three unique places to visit, and they are located right near the entrance of Kabukicho.
The Lockup is a terrific experience that may have some running for the hills, but if the idea of a prison/horror-themed izakaya gives you the right kind of goosebumps, this may be the place for you. After arriving at the restaurant, you will be asked to state your crime. The naughtiest member of your party will be escorted to your table in handcuffs. Although the workers are dressed as monsters and prison guards, they are very kind and helpful. However, when you least expect it, those friendly faces will hold nothing back to try and scare you. Randomly all the lights will go down, a haunting track will start playing throughout the restaurant, and all kinds of monsters appear to torment the guests. I don't think I scare easily, but to be honest, listening to the other tables around me scream as they made their way around was a little exciting. After a while though, I was really wondering when our drinks were going to come rather than wondering what will pop up around the corner next.
Bloodied zombie clowns, ax-wielding psychopaths, and ghostly figures may wander the halls of The Lockup, but the scariest thing in this restaurant is the food. The only reason I would recommend going to The Lockup would be for the fun horror gimmick. It's a fantastic place for a party with a group of friends, but I wouldn't count on it to fill your stomach. Although the original drinks like "Man Eater", "Biohazard", and "Escape from Silent Hill" are funny and creative, I wouldn't give them very high marks either. I ordered the all-you-can-drink set so that my friend and I could try them all, but we eventually just gave up. After a couple of sips of the "Life Sentence" we really did start to believe the punishment would never end.
As I mentioned, people really go here for the experience. There are surprises around every corner, and the details they put into making The Lockup's atmosphere fun and frightening is really astonishing. It's a popular stop for all kinds of groups. For foreigners, they have English menus and English-speaking staff. If you are looking for a good scare or a good laugh, The Lockup is definitely worth a try.
If Lockup just isn't quite scary enough for you, try subjecting yourself to a math test at Rokunen-Yonkumi, an elementary school themed izakaya. Rokunen-Yonkumi is nostalgic for anyone who grew up in Japan and is a unique cultural experience for others. People who have never been inside a Japanese elementary school can discover what a typical school looks like, while enjoying a classic school lunch and other popular izakaya style food. Anyone familiar with Japanese anime will especially have fun recognizing the stereotypical classroom themes found in many popular dramas. The hand-crafted decorations go way beyond what I was expecting, so I was really impressed with the atmosphere they created.
Hilariously there is also alcohol on the menu, so you and your friends can have hours of fun ironically drinking and sharing funny stories about your school days. I was hesitant to spend any amount of time sitting in a classroom after all these years, but it turns out that school is a lot more fun if you are drunk. I wish I had known that when I was a student. Apparently it would have had little impact on my education, as I horribly failed the elementary math exam they gave me. Math was never my best subject, but for my own dignity, I'll blame my poor performance on the beer. Of course you aren't required to take a test, but it's all in good fun. Everyday Rokunen-Yonkumi provides a quiz for a certain subject. Too bad I didn't go on an English exam day.
Most of the rooms are private, separated by sliding doors, so it looks more like an authentic school. However this really limits the space, and I can imagine Rokunen-Yonkumi being pretty packed on certain nights. It might be a good idea to make a reservation, but if you do, make sure you're not tardy.
Another night while wandering around Kabukicho for a place to eat, I noticed a restaurant vaguely named Mysterious. Being such a curious guy, I was immediately drawn to the self-described Neo Tokyo fooding bar. During the walk down the dimly lit steps into Mysterious, I had no idea what to expect. Walking into a dark, unknown area around Kabukicho is a real gamble, but despite its ominous appearance, the staff was friendly and professional.
Although I scoffed when I first read the "Neo Tokyo Fooding Bar" banner above the entrance, "Neo Tokyo" is actually a pretty good way to describe it. The atmosphere was like a futuristic Tokyo club. Aside from the bright, blue lights leading customers to their spacious private booths, the restaurant was very dark and moody. All this combined with the club music pumping in the background reminded me of a VIP lounge I was once kicked out of. The main difference being the staff asked questions like "What would you like to drink, sir?" rather than "What are you doing in here?"
Once you're thirsty, Mysterious has plenty of original drinks all based off of familiar celestial bodies. Fans of Pluto may be disappointed by the lovables space-rock's glaring omission, but the original "Venus" cocktail with real gold flakes inside will make you forget all about it. The food here is decent as well. Normally I'd warn people to stay away from "Mysterious chicken", but it this case, it was actually pretty good. The menu isn't as expansive as other izakayas, but I wasn't disappointed with anything I tried. Mysterious is a great place for some pre-game drinks, snacks before taking on the night or for chatting with some friends in a more relaxed club setting. As the name suggests, this izakaya is difficult to describe. It's a mystery that you may just have to investigate yourself.
Obviously these three offer vastly different experiences, but they are all located next each other alongside many other uncommon restaurants. It's an excellent example of the kind of variety you can expect to find in Kabukucho. Whichever you choose, you're sure to have an unforgettable time. Cheers!
Andrew is an American writer living in Tokyo, Japan. He often finds himself wandering home from a livehouse after missing the last train. As an outdoors enthusiast, musician, traveler and editor, he stays pretty busy, but he is still always looking for new things to try. The only thing more unorganised than his schedule is his room.