Tokyo is a city filled with tiny spaces, so it’s not unusual for bars or restaurants to have room for a dozen patrons or fewer.
But Hitori, a bar in the chic Shinjuku district, stands out from the neighborhood’s many standing-room-only establishments by encouraging a slightly different clientele.
The bar’s name is a clue: Hitori means “individual.” The bar allows patrons to enter only if they are by themselves.
On a recent Thursday night in the Japanese capital, 10 guests – a mix of women and men – lined the small bar, tucked onto the seventh floor of an industrial building.
Hitori, which opened in June 2018, can fit about 17 people at full capacity.
Normally, Japanese etiquette dictates that people don’t approach and talk to strangers in bars. At Hitori, guests can simply enjoy the solitude or politely make small talk with other drinkers, something that isn’t always common.
The bar’s drink menu is also surprisingly affordable in expensive Tokyo, which is one reason that several of the bar’s patrons gave for visiting. Everything, whether beer or cocktail, is ¥1000 yen ($9), and there is no cover charge for women. Men pay 500-3,000 yen depending on the time of day.
And though there aren’t rules about who sits where, the guests tended to separate themselves automatically, with men on one side of the bar and women on the other.
A friendly bar
That said, it’s not just the reasonable prices that made several of the female patrons come in. Hitori has a lighthearted, convivial atmosphere.
“Everyone who comes in here is very positive,” said Rei, a bartender who asked that only her first name be used. Since many Japanese bars serve food and Hitori doesn’t have a kitchen, Rei likes to make up for it by bringing in bags of candy and sweets for the punters.
That night, she passed out speculoos cookies, miniature chocolates and small bowls of sugary, pastel-colored popcorn.
Patrons chit-chatted happily with each other, in some cases via Google Translate.
While solo status might be a hard and fast rule for entry, age isn’t. The youngest patron, a 19-year-old man, stuck to soft drinks – the drinking age in Japan is 20 – and watched videos on his phone.
Whatever “hitori” may mean to you, Hitori is a welcome place for it.
Hitori, 46-7 Third Hirasawa Building, 7th Floor, Shinjuku City, Tokyo, Japan +81 50-5216-6514