The Best Game Bars in Shinjuku
Game bars in Japan have a specific niche role that many westerners may not initially imagine. While the idea of game arcades is to provide gaming experiences that aren’t available at home, game bars are meant to serve as a social hub that replicates the ideal at-home couch gaming experience. Simply put, game bars offer a unique social experience to interact with retro game fans in Japan. Let me introduce some of my favorite game bars near Shinjuku Station, one of the busiest train stations in the world.
8 Bit Café
The first stop on my journey. Among the game bars in the area, the 8 Bit Café offers the most diverse and interesting selection of original game-themed cocktails. Impressed by the variety and creativity of some of the cocktails available, I asked for the bartender’s recommendation. He suggested I try ‘Dr. Mario’; A tangy mixture of Vodka, Gin, Dr. Pepper, and Cola that goes down smooth with a bite.
My first round was followed by ‘Metroid’, a mix of Midori and a vodka tonic that is decorated with a red straw to authentically imitate the gooey innards of this series staple. There were many more options for game-themed cocktails at 8-bit café, and it was clear that compared to surrounding game bars, the true of 8-bit is the selection of retro game-themed drinks. While there were Super Famicom demo stations and old handhelds adorning each nook and cranny, there was also a shelf of the owner’s favorite chiptune vinyl’s and game-related manga. With a more varied décor and a plethora of entertainments, 8-bit cafe stands out in a good way.
At the same time, 8-bit lacks the consistent atmosphere that can often be found in more niche’ game bars, such as Game Bar Star Club found farther down this list. With a more tucked away location hidden on the 5th floor of a side-street building, and the bigger surface area, 8-bit café is a place you can count on to hang out with friends and wind-down in a game-themed setting. For those looking for game-themed drinks with plenty of variety, this is a great option.
A mere 5-minute walk away from 8-bit café is 16 shots, a game bar with a name that may not come from where you think. Many customers may assume that the name ’16-shots’ comes from ’16-bit’, however, the name actually comes from Takahashi Meijin, a famous figure, and developer at Hudson Soft who was said to be able to hit the ‘A’ button on the Famicom 16 times per second.
I spent some time chatting with the owner of 16-shots, who was a veteran of the early game industry himself. While the first floor of bar 16-shots consist of a modest bar area decorated with retro industry gear and memorabilia, the entire 2nd floor was rented out for a Takoyaki (octopus ball) cooking party on the night I visited. It was a welcome surprise.
The 2nd floor is equipped with a TV and several consoles. So those looking for a couch-gaming session with their friends in downtown Tokyo may want to check out the space available at Bar 16-shots.
Game Bar Star Club / 無敵マリオ
Game Bar Star Club is the place to go for amazing décor, atmosphere, and a place to meet like-minded gamers in a more traditional bar setting. Whilst 8-Bit café and bar 16 shots are catered more to a wider scope of games and gaming history, it could be said that Game Bar Star Club is a paradise for the Nintendo-fanboy in all of us.
Upon entering, the first thing you’ll notice are the piranha plants jutting out of the makeshift warp-pipe light fixtures. From an ominous distance, Bowser looms at the end of the counter, enticing thirsty patrons into having just one more round with his striking poses. Aside from Bowser, The entire Mario cast of characters can be found in a cushy group-corner that sits off from the main bar area.
The chill atmosphere and low lighting make this the most bar-like setting of the three venues and a place to unwind with plush Mario-themed awesomeness. There is also a large projector mounted on the wall, making Star Club a more communal game setting than most other game bars, which typically have smaller sections off gaming areas. The fantastic décor, lighting, and more communal experience make Game Bar Star Club the most accessible game bar for single patrons. I immediately hit it off with the regulars who were open and friendly. For the atmosphere and clientele, Game Bar Star Club is my personal favorite game bar out of the three listed today, and my recommendation for those looking to join a more rotating gaming community in the Shinjuku area.