Orlando may be the theme park capital of the world, but there is much more to do in the heart of Florida than just wander around a sprawling amusement park. There's art, food, nightlife, and culture. After all that, if you still have the time and energy to visit an amusement park, then I'll tip you off to the strangest offerings in Orlando that you've probably never heard of. So come with me, let's drop those bags at a hotel -- I recommend an IHG Hotel near Universal -- and then take a whirlwind weekend tour around town!

Get Your Museum On

With over two dozen museums, there's something for everyone here in Orlando. Fan of sports cars? Visit the Exotic Car Gallery. Fascinated by the history of the Titanic? Visit Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition. Artwork more your thing? The Orlando Museum of Art is one of the top-rated in the city. Traveling with kids? Orlando Science Center is the place to go. Want to please the kids and the kid inside of you at the same time? Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Orlando is your answer.

Orlando Museum of Art in Florida
Orlando Museum of Art

Alternative: Don't like any of those? Then you'll absolutely love the Tupperware Confidence Center! Not only is it one of the most unusual museums in the entire United States, but it also wins my award for the most creative museum name ever. 100% refund if you don't leave here with more confidence in your Tupperware skills.

Frozen Fun With Alcohol

Ever visited an ice bar? They can be found in over 30 cities around the world and are absolutely amazing. After donning a jacket and gloves, guests are led into a frozen bar where everything is hand-carved from ice: walls, chairs, tables, glasses, decorations, and even the bar itself!

Shot glasses made of handcarved ice at the Orlando Ice Bar in Florida

Of course, if you're visiting Florida to escape the winter back home, this might not sound like an appealing idea. However, Icebar Orlando is the largest ice bar in the world and features over 70 tons of carved ice, making it the top dog in an already exclusive club. And for that reason alone, Icebar Orlando deserves a visit on a humid evening.

Alternative: Orlando Brewing has been creating "darn good beer" for over a decade now and offers free daily tours every day of the week (except Sunday). The bar features two dozen taps, so no matter what your poison, you can go straight to the source for the freshest brew.

What to Eat in Orlando

Given its reputation as an international family vacation destination, cuisines from around the world can be found in downtown Orlando and the theme park district of the southwest. There is no one dish or cuisine that is distinctly Orlando. However, there are some restaurants that are distinctly Orlandian.

The Cowfish, the first and only burger and sushi bar in the world, is one of the offbeat restaurants keepings Orlando unique

The Cowfish is proudly the first and only burger and sushi bar in the world. Step on in and try one of the signature creations: the Burgushi. Café Tu Tu Tango fuses global recipes with a Florida twist, using only local ingredients and serving meals in an art gallery showcasing local artists.

Alternative: Can't decide? Spend a few hours on an Orlando Food Tour to eat your way around town and have a couple drinks while doing it.

Visit a Quirky Amusement Park

Screw Walt Disney World. Go somewhere unique this trip, like Gatorland–home to all your alligator amusement needs–or better yet, the Holyland Experience–where the Bible comes to life. Hint: it's even more entertaining and over the top than the good book itself. ;)

Welcome to Gatorland, the only alligator themed amusement park in the world and one of the unique and offbeat things to do in Orlandom, Florida

Alternative: If neither of those sounds right for you, check out these other one-of-a-kind Orlando amusement parks.

  More Offbeat Travel Guides

  flickr // inazakira cindy sackerman519 hyku

Published in United States

Let's be honest. Food can get boring. Day in and day out, week after week and year after year. Such routine. Such hassle. It's time to make things more interesting. And what better place to do that than in London, England's most diverse and interesting city.

London is an impressive city with hundreds, if not thousands, of hidden nooks and crannies to explore. Food in the city is the same way. There are always exciting new restaurants opening up that are doing something different. So come with me and let's see what kind of quirky restaurant bars we can find.

Bunga Bunga

Bunga Bunga restaurant and bar in London, England

Most restaurants have entrances, usually composed of a door. Boring! It's the places where the entrance is hidden or through the kitchen -- or in this case through a phone both -- that really captivate me before I've seen the inside. Thankfully, I was so impressed by the food here that I had to list Bunga Bunga first. Order the My Little Porcellino, or for a delicious vegetarian pizza, try the Burratina.

La Bodega Negra

La Bodega Negra restaurant and bar in London, England

Much like Bunga Bunga, prospective patrons of La Bodega must pass through a raunchy-looking adult sex shop to gain access to the restaurant within. Don't let that scare you away though -- inside you will find what is arguably the best Mexican food in all of London and drinks that are dangerously easy to down. The Pork Belly Carnitas here are my personal recommendation...but then again I've always been a sucker for pigs.

Circus

Circus restaurant and bar in London, England

I despise the circus (clowns are evil, just trust me on this one) but Circus is amazing! Guests are visually entertained by talented acrobatics and magic tricks while they devour their food and indulge in their drinks. Circus is a bit more expensive than the other establishments on this list, but to be fair you are also paying for the show. Definitely something that every visitor to London should experience at least once.

Meat Liquor

Meat Liquor restaurant and bar in London, England

Admit it: you already want to visit here just having heard the name. It's okay, I had a similar reaction. Turns out that Meat Liquor is the best burger joint in all of London, albeit a bit hippie-esque. Personally I never thought "chicken" and "burger" went together until I tried their Buffalo Chicken Burger. Simply amazing!

Shaka Zulu

Shaka Zulu restaurant and bar in London, England

London's largest and most well-known restaurant bar combination is Shaka Zulu. The restaurant recently re-opened last year following a 5.5 million pound renovation after acquiring the next door bar, Gilgamesh. The place supposedly is now even bigger and better, although I have yet the see the improvements firsthand.

Of course it's no secret that eating out in London and enjoying the city's nightlife is anything but cheap. There are ways to be thrifty. So make sure to check out my guide to cheap London hotels on Hipmunk to save some cash -- cash which can then be spent on some unforgettable food and drinks!

See More       London's Best Offbeat Sights And Activities   London HoliDaze Guides

What are your favorite London restaurant bars?

  flickr // ReadingTom EwanMunro masochismtango lokon swamibu

Published in England

Austin, Texas is known as the live music capital of the world and for good reason. Regardless of the time of year there are always an abundance of amazing shows to catch. The next time you are visiting Austin be sure to check out these venues:

The Continental Club

An Austin staple for over fifty years, the Continental Club has been graced by countless famous musicians, including Stevie Ray Vaughn and Hank Williams. When it first opened the Club was BYOB and within a couple years it was the first venue in town to sell liquor by the drink. Although it was briefly a burlesque club during the 1960's, nowadays the Continental Club is fun for all ages.

The Saxon Pub

This small, intimate pub is one of the newer ones musical venues on this list but it has already earned it's place as an Austin musical staple. Live recordings are frequently done here and guests never know which celebrities might make a surprise appearance jamming on stage with local musicians.

Antone's is the best spot for live music in Austin, Texas

Antone's

This blue's club is one of the best known spots in Austin to catch both up-and-coming and well-known artists. Founded by the late Clifford Antone, mentor to Stevie Ray Vaughn and noteable musicians, there is no such thing as a bad show at Antone's.

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The Mohawk

Arguably most diverse venue on this list, the Mohawk is like no other. A favorite among the counter-culture crowd, both long-time Austinites and out of town visitors sweat by this bar. Although they do not serve any food, the famou food trucks East Side Pie's and Arlos can be found right out front and are the perfect way to grab a bite withou having to miss the music.

Spider House

Spider House is a coffee bar and cafe rolled into one that has been a favorite among Austin locals since it opened in 1995. The place has a uniquly Austin vibe and is definitely one of those locations keeping Austin weird. Their two outdoor stages are graced by talented local artists on a nightly basis.

SXSW performance at the Fader Fort

SXSW

Unlike the other items on this list, SXSW is not a venue but rather an annual week-long musical experience. Every year in March thousands of bands from around the world flock to the city and can be found jamming on every stage and street corner in downtown. Although the vast majority of the shows are free, the biggest ones featuring the most well-known performers usually require an SXSW wristband. Of course attendees should always be on the lookout for last-minute suprise shows featuring headliners that are announced via social media and free for those who are "in the know" and can make it there in time.

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Of course these are but a fraction of the amazing places in Austin to find great music -- the city does not disappoint. Feel free to contact me if you have any further questions, Austin is my hometown and music is in my blood. Rock on!

Published in United States

Alcohol consumption is a popular social activity in a variety countries all over this world, however few cities take it to the level that the residents of Tokyo do. From hard liquor sold around-the-clock in corner stores to clubs whose closing time is not until "the last person leaves," this mega-metropolis has a decidedly care-free attitude toward drinking. Just as the local citizens love their cigarettes, it should come as no surprise that they also love their fermented beverages -- more so than any other country I have seen in this corner of the world. Take China, for example: drinking is not immensely popular among the locals, and their big holiday, Chinese New Year, is a time most often spent with the family, not an excuse to go out drinking.

Gigantic, Multiple-Floor Clubs Lure In The Young Local Crowds

The Tokyo club scene rocks!
No, this isn't the party...just the pre-party.

The same cannot be said about Japan. They love their spirits be it holiday, weekday, or weekend! Beer, sake, wine, liquor, all are enjoyed in ample quantities. That fact is further re-inforced by the single biggest difference between drinking in Tokyo and drinking Stateside... Are you ready for this one? There is no official closing time! Forget that 2am cutoff we have in the States, that is usually just when things are getting good but then ol' Johnny Q Bartender just has to go slap on the ugly lights as he gives you the ol' "You don't have to go home but you can't stay here" line.

Sail past the 4am alcohol-cutoff that NYC residents love to brag about as well, none of those early nights here in Tokyo. As the bulk of large Tokyo clubs do not open their doors until 11pm or midnight, it will often be 2 or maybe 3am before the place really gets packed. Add in the fact that the majority of these venues stay open as long as there is a profit to be made and that frequently results in it being 5-6-7am before you stumble out into the morning sun, momentarily confused as to why it is so damn bright in the middle of the night. It is only the sobering sight of hordes of businessmen dressed in identical black suits scurrying along every which direction that makes you realize that you are now a part of the Tokyo morning rush-hour. Trains are running again and packed full of individuals en route to work alongside others desperate to crawl into bed before the hangover hits. But the night does not always stop here...

Absolut Ice Bar Tokyo

Another key difference regarding alcohol laws was not initially apparent until you find yourself leaving one of these clubs at sunrise with no desire to end the party. This is what I dubbed the memory-maker — or for some it was usually more of a memory-eraser.

Yes, believe it or not in Tokyo you can purchase alcohol 24/7 — that's right, beer, wine, even hard liquor! The easiest place to purchase it is from Lawson corner stores that are located on nearly every block. Walk fifty paces, grab a little tray of fresh sushi, maybe some ramen too, oh and what else did I need..? Ahhh yes a liter of 12yr Yamazaki, Japan's premiere whisky. (Japanese whisky is most similar to Scotch whisky and therefore contains no 'e')

Cheers in Tokyo

Although it may sound as though Tokyo and its' nightlife is a sort of alcohol-heaven, make sure that your wallet can take the hit as nothing in or around the city is cheap. Since Tokyo is one of the most expensive cities in the world to call home, it should be no surprise that everything else in the city is expensive, including the clubs. As with most things you get what you pay for and none of these clubs disappoint, just do not be surprised to see the club cover charges are ¥3000-4000 (roughly $35-45 USD) just to step foot in the door. Drinks cost an average of ¥800-1000 ($10-12 USD). Most venues include a token for one free drink upon paying the cover but I quickly learned one important thing: when redeeming the free drink token, do not wave it around when placing your drink order or you may end up with a weak drink. Instead wait until the bartender places the drink in front of you to reveal the token.
  Curiosity piqued yet? It should be. Read more~   the dazzling Tokyo club scene

I Do Believe There Is A Bar Every 40 Metres Or Less!

Beer, wine, and mixed drinks at the bars are generally slightly less expensive than inside the clubs, not to mention there is no hefty cover charge. Another financial upside is the fact that since tipping in Japan is actually considered very offensive, need to worry about adding in a ¥200 tip with each drink. It is almost like saying that you are above the person being tipped and thus implying that they are inferior and need your assistance. Besides, as the cost of living in the city is anything but cheap, employees in Tokyo are already paid well-enough to free them from any reliance on tips. This proud self-reliance and unwillingness to accept hand-outs is deeply entwined with their culture and I believe helps explain the almost complete lack of homeless people. It is also pretty damn admirable, if I do say so myself.

Good friends and good drinks in Tokyo, Japan

There is only one place which I can recall that may have had a tip jar on the bar was ShibuyaNUTS — and because I know you are curious, 'NUTS' stands from the Next Underground Techno Scene. Every few weeks I would pop in for a couple hours during NUTS' weekly Sunday night ReggaeFest and it wasn't long before I had made friends with one of the young bartenders. Realizing that I prefered my whisky half-and-half with 7Up (never Coke), he made sure to start pouring my drinks with a wicked heavy hand. In return I never bothered to take my change. Whether it made it into his pocket or the tip jar that may not have even existed, I haven't the faintest idea and nor do I care. All I know is that being a young cat (or whatever the reason may have been) he certainly not offended in the slightest about accepting extra cash from me.

The Classic Charlie Brown Football Gag
Replace poor Charlie Brown's body with mine and
swap Lucy out for the lower portion of that staircase

Yup, that's exactly how it happened!

(And a good reason why I need a cameraman to follow me around)

But this much I do remember: one night that bartender got me so damn drunk that I took not one, not two, but three nasty falls during my drunken stumble back to my flat. On the positive side two of these falls were quite hilarious, if I do say so myself. Luckily this was while Jared was in town, so he was able to get a couple pictures of my injuries.

  Remember the classic Charlie Brown football gag where Lucy lifts the ball up precisely as Charlie goes to kick it and his momentum causes him to fly up into the air, feet up over head before slamming back down to the ground?

Well that my friends is exactly what happened to me. That night after leaving ShibuyaNUTS I was descending rain-covered steps on the far side of a pedestrian walkway over a busy intersection when one of my feet slipped due to my rapid multiple-steps-at-once pace combined with — c'mon, let's face it — my high level of inebriation. As that foot flew past its anticipated step my forward momentum carried me out off the stairs and forward thru the air, both feet rising up nearly level with my head as I continued to sail past the last remaining eight or so steps. My spine hit the sidewalk first followed a split-second later by a resounding thud as the back of my head bounced against the concrete a mere couple inches from the lowest step on the staircase.

  Jared took photos of my injuries after we returned to the flat. I still have those scars to this very day, too.

Derek Freal got injured while drunk in Tokyo

Thankfully I was considerably drunk and did not initially feel much pain. After struggling to my feet I managed to follow that spectacular show up with two more subsequent self-induced falls in as many minutes. One was chest-first (resulting in cuts to my right hand, wrist, and arm) and the other a second blow to the back of my skull yet again. As you can see in the pictures, rather than clean my wounds I decided to pass out bleeding. Not my brightest idea, especially considering the wound on the back of my head. I had to throw away that pillow the next morning.

Whisky from the depression era!

Personally, I had never before in all my life and certainly never since done so much daily drinking over not just a week or two but multiple months. The month that Jared was here visiting me was the worst, out in the clubs all night and then grabbing a bottle afterwards to continue the party with local friends. But even once he left and I hooked up with Mayu, my Japanese cougar, we started to frequent the more sophisticated and upscale places which she was used to. Despite the prices increasing dramatically that did little if anything deter our alcohol consumption. She and I From fancy restaurants owned by Japanese celebrities and random upscale bars, many of these were places I would never have found or never been able to gain access as a lone gaijin wandering aimlessly. One of the upscale whisky bars we visited in Hiroo even had a bottle of whisky from the Prohibition-era. That is me with said bottle on the right.

I firmly believe that anyone who enjoys a good night out on the town should consider visiting Tokyo while they are still young and able enough to survive an entire night of drinking. Go for the full experience and trust me, you will have a memorable time.

Ready For Another
Unexpected Surprise?

Despite the relentless drinking that many locals engage in, never once in my three months did I observe a single fight or even any minor disagreements between friends or lovers. Nothing even remotely close. Not like back Stateside, where disputes or fights occur with an all-too-common frequency at the slightest provocation. Of course a couple friends have recently pointed out the fact that my Japanese is limited at best, so how can I accurately judge what I heard? Regardless of the language, words themselves are but a mere 10% of the actual act of communication. The real message lies not exactly with the wording but in the body language, pitch, tone, and general context of the speaker, and to a lesser extent in the reaction of the listener. In all my people-watching never once was there anything resembling animosity. Talk about refreshing! Even random strangers are friendly and respectful, albeit sometimes a little shy. What an amazing culture! I love everything about you Japan.

Nonbei Yokocho, Shibuya ward, Tokyo, Japan
Drunkards' Alley is actually two parallel alleys jam-packed with
dozens of miniature bars, the biggest only about 10'x10'

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

No matter where you may be in Tokyo the ambiance is always pleasant. Streets are clean and every public trash can is divided into sections for recycling and compost. Even the tiniest bars are clean and well-maintained, another stark contrast to the US. And believe me, I did plenty of drinking in these hole-in-the-wall bars. I even found a full neighborhood of nothing but miniature bars! It was so amazing that I would end up at least popping my head in for a few minutes on an almost nightly basis as a sort of warmup before our nightly loop along the drinking circuit. The neighborhood is called Nonbeiyokocho and is also known as Drunkards' Alley or the Alley of the Drunkards (pictured on the left).

  If you are eager to enjoy a beer in one of the world's smallest bars or looking to meet some great people and make new friends, well then this is the spot! I cannot stress that enough.

I have been informed by several individuals over the years — although I have yet to confirm this one personally — that if you get too drunk and happen to pass out on a street corner during a cold night, someone walking by will take off their jacket to cover you before continuing on their way, sans jacket. Now c'mon, is that not incredible!?! Where else in the world would someone, especially a stranger, demonstrate such compassion for an unknown individual? Not just a stranger but a passed out drunk person that could well be a vagrant. Nowhere but Japan! That is but a small part of what makes this such a unique and unparallel country. (Kind of wish I had tested it during my injury night and just passed out laying there on the sidewalk, bleeding)

Drinking with friends at a darts bar in the Ebisu ward of Tokyo, Japan

Included below are some random pictures from an assortment of my many drunken nights in Tokyo. Photography is strictly forbidden inside all the clubs, so all my photos come from various bars. However, just below this paragraph you will notice a large photofrom inside of random Shibuya club. Towards the end of my trip I met this fantastic local "businessman" at Non. Despite the fact he would never elaborate any more about his work, he was still a very worldly person to spoke with and we had a lot of great conversations. We also went to a lot of fun clubs and parties together on a variety of different nights. Not only did this mysterious gentleman always get us into the clubs via the back door — no cover charge, no security search — but the staff also kindly looked the other way whenever Shige would break any of the rules, such as taking flash photos inside.

Shibuya friends
Oh man this picture tells a thousand stories...if you know how to read it ;)

Our mysterious friend is at the forefront alongside the Japanese wrapper whose private, closed-club birthday party we were currently attending (I cannot believe I have forgotten his name!). On the far right is one of the dudes from the rapper's posse, in the back middle is my drunk ass, and on the far left is my sometimes traveling buddy Jared.

Even more impressive than backdoor access to everywhere when with him was the fact that regardless of where we went, steady streams of people were slowly yet continuously approaching Shige and bow to show respect. Unfortunately because any exchanges would be spoken quickly, quietly, and in Japanese, I was never able to pinpoint why everyone respected him. The plot thickens... One evening Jared and I had accompanied Shige to one of his flats in a dark corner of Shibuya, where among other things he showed us a collection of enlarged photographs featuring him with Hugh Hefner and three bunnies. Others photos were with a variety of American and European celebrities, mostly actors. There was even one photograph with him and the old man from Orange County Choppers, so I would be willing to wager a bet that stashed somewhere in this great city Shige also has a custom NY chopper.

Lots of beer on tap in Tokyo, Japan

After returning to Tokyo from the Philippines was when Jared flew back home and I began dating Mayu. One evening I brought her along for dinner with Shige. Big mistake. Mayu behaved strangely and was quite hesitant to join in our conversation. Despite the limited time I had known her I could tell she was being uncharacteristically silent. Only later that night did I find out the reason why: she squeeked out something about him being Yakuza and then would never speak another peep about it or even join me if she knew that my "Japanese father" would be there. Uncertain of Shige's reaction, I never asked him myself — although that certainly would have explained a whole helluva lot!

And That My Friends Is Tokyo — A City Where Anything Is Possible!

  Been to Japan? What did you think about the culture, the nightlife? Share your thoughts below!
  Maybe you even recognize the rapper from my photo or possibly know his name? I feel like that could even possibly be it on his hand...?? If you know, please let me know. Thanks!

Even Once The Party Is Over, Tokyo Still Leaves You Impressed

Besides Booze, The World's Most Successful Metropolis Is Also Host To An Abundance
Of Other Surprising And Often-Unexpected Features, Especially For First-Time Visitors

Given that Tokyo is home to a staggering 36.9 million residents, it should be downright shocking that the world's most populated metropolis does not suffer from those key issues plaguing nearly every other metropolis with a multi-million population: crime, pollution, trash, traffic, a homeless population, sections of deteriorating infrastructure, even a public disdain for strangers or the inability of the local government to properly streamline important functions such as emergency medical services or public transportation. However I am proud to say that amazingly Tokyo has all of those items well under control. The only one that could even remotely be considered to have room for improvement is the traffic, and that is debatable.

Drunk Derek Freal always knows how to wow the ladies, even in Tokyo, Japan when he doesn't speak the language

Due to the efficiency and reliability of the Tokyo metro system, combined with the high prices and taxes for personal vehicles, only the wealthiest of businessmen drive. As such often the only cars on the roads alongside the taxis and delivery drivers are sparkling new Audis and Mercedes that appear to have just rolled off the showroom floor only minutes before. The miniscule proportion of private commuters in local traffic is just not a serious issue -- I've sat through worse in dozens of cities, including my hometown of Austin, Texas — and the population of that entire greater metropolis region is not even a paltry 4% of Tokyo's. Further illustrating the significance of these amazing achievements is evidenced by the fact that Tokyo has a harmonious, realitvely efficient, and overall smooth-running city despite the fact that the region is not only located in an earthquake hotspot and plagued year-round but also boasts a population that is a whopping 75% greater than even its closest competition, Delhi. That is an extra 15 million people more or the entire population of Beijing!

Drinking in Tokyo, Japan

Toss in some of the best cuisine anywhere, a one-of-a-kind fashion industry, amazing shopping, diverse districts that are home to never-ending sights, and a vibrant, respectful, and deeply historic culture...

Well now that my friends that is my beloved Tokyo! You would be hard-pressed to find a better all-around combination of technology and efficiency anywhere. On the depressing day three years ago that I said goodbye to my flat in Ebisu and moved back Stateside I swore to return once I had traveled the globe to the point of exhaustion and start a family there.

  I made this map while in Ebisu to help familiarize myself with my new home and the local neighborhood. Includes are mostly clubs and bars in the Shibuya/Ebisu area, making it a perfect fit with this article. Plus there are also a few extra shopping locations, the closest 24/7 ATM that accepts all foreign cards, and maybe even a hidden restaurant or two. Oh yes, and the ex's flat. Don't go there.

{jumi [*5][shibuya]}

  So let's hear it! What are your thoughts on Tokyo? Could you keep up with the local rate of alcohol consumption without getting cirrhosis of the liver? Share your thoughts below!

Published in Japan

Tokyo Clubs Far Surpass All Forms Of American Nightlife

Wow. That's all I can say. You cannot even begin to imagine what the clubs are like in Tokyo. They are absolutely incredible, like nothing we have over here in the west! It figures that as much as the residents of Tokyo love to drink, they should have some damn cool places to do it.

Clubbing in Tokyo, Japan

For starters, the biggest difference is the sheer size of the clubs there. Every single one is designed to span several floors, usually with different themes and different styles of music for each. Rather than have one DJ per floor there were usually multiple, sometimes as many as six or seven DJs will constantly rotate out while all sorts of lasers flare and animation is projected onto the walls, plenty of fog machines working at full blast, countless girls dancing up on various stages...but that really does not even begin to describe the scene or do it the least bit of justice.

Let's do this instead: Picture the best rave you have ever been to here in the States or even in Europe, you know back years ago when they were GOOD. Next take everything from it, the lights, sound, fog, lasers, music, the essence, every single last thing except for the plethora of designer drugs. Now drop that mass of madness into the middle of a skyscraper in the heart of Shibuya, let's say spanning across the third thru sixth floors, and well then my friend you have yourself a bonafide Tokyo club.

Most of these clubs are located either a couple floors below-ground or a couple floors above-ground, occupying a few of the lower-level floors of a commercial high-rise. All the floors will be linked by a bank of elevators but also a set or two of stairs. There is just so much going on and because often each floor is distinctly different in both decoration and music, the best way to experience it all is to keep moving around and mingle your way through one floor before heading on to the next. And repeat.

Clubbing in Tokyo, Japan

These amazing clubs do come with a price, however. The minimum cover charge you'll ever see is ¥2000 (roughly $25 USD; i.e. crappy show) and although most are between ¥3000-4000 ($35-48 USD), I did occasionally see some shows advertised with covers of ¥4500-5000 ($55-60 USD). Its not all bad though. Most of these clubs hand you a token after paying your cover, which you can then redeem at the bar for one free drink. That way you won't feel so bad about just spending $90 to get you and your girlfriend in LOL. ;)

The tokens themselves are fairly simple, usually nothing more than pieces of plastic or coins with the club name or logo on it. I brought back several of these with me actually...now if I could figure out what I did with them...

  One important tip though, at least for all you alcoholics: Through "painstaking" personal research I found out that if you display your free drink token up front, often the bartender will pour you a weaker drink, whereas not revealing it until your drink is fully mixed ensures a perfect pour. You're welcome!

Here is a handy feature and something which I am shocked is not more common elsewhere around the world, especially in regions with temperatures that vary significantly throughout the year. Every decent club in Tokyo that I explored is equipped with an enormous bank of small rental lockers immediately past the security checkpoint. Simple and traditional gym lockers, they are only big enough for a purse, a jacket or two, and maybe a set of shoes -- perfect for when the missus wants to wait till the last minute to slap on her heels or ditch them before the long drunken walk home. The cost is only ¥100 but offers a full refund if you make it back out in less than three hours. (Plus since you left early and didn't close down the club that night, you've saved even more LOL)

Not only does that make things more convenient in the winter by not having crowds in think bulky jackets trying to squeeze into an elevator pass through a thick crowd on the dance floor, but it also will help prevent anything from being stolen, misplaced, or even drunkenly left behind -- something that we have all been guilty of at one point or another. The solution is cheap, effective, helpful in multiple ways, and given how easy it is to install and implement, I am surprised that more places do not have a similar system in place.

The Sheer Level Of Service Provided At Some Of These Clubs Was Impressive!

Clubbing in Tokyo, Japan

They actually have numerous staff members who walk around occasionally looking for those super drunk girls, who are passing out while leaning against the walls or trying to lay down on the floor. The employees proceed to take them all out to the front entrance, where the entry staff is located. Out there is one guy whose sole duty is to take care of and watch out for the ladies that have had too much to drink and are completely FUBAR. He is proudly armed with roll of small black plastic bags, package of paper towels, even rubber bands to tie their hair up for them if they should happen to start heaving.

Can you ever imagine that back in the States?!? You would never see anything close to it! No one, regardless of their salary, would want to be the "throw-up guy" stuck taking care of the sick chicks all night, every night. It would just never happen. I believe that most Americans are too grossed out to help a stranger throw up in a small black plastic bag, let alone tie a knot in it for them and then toss it into the nearby throw-up can. Yes, that's right, there is a trash can for throw-up only.

But those guys at the clubs in Tokyo are all over it and I'll be damned if they don't always do it with a smile! Even if the boyfriend showed up to check on his lady, like I did one night when I noticed Mayu had been gone for too long, that proud little throw-up man would not let me help, insisting he had everything under control and to 'go back to the dance floor until I was ready to claim Mayu and leave.' It was fantastic! I pondered it for all of about half a second before saying thanks and making my way back past the lockers and towards the elevators. After all, might as well let Mayu rest and get through the worst of it downstairs while I reclaimed the buzz that I'd lost a few minutes before while hunting for her.

Now is that amazing or what? Have you ever seen or heard of service like that before? Where I come from, and everywhere I have been, its just unheard of to be that nice to strangers. But that is just one of the hundred reasons that Japan is my favorite country!

  Would you accept a job as the throw-up man? Share your thoughts below!

As I mentioned before the clubs don't open until 11pm or midnight so most do not start to get fully packed until 2am or 3am. But that last start frequently keeps the clubs open until 6 or 7am. As long as it is profitable, they won't close until the party is over. You can literally dance, drink, and party until the sun comes up. How fantastic! I would advise everyone who enjoys an active nightlife to check out the party scene in Tokyo for a week or a weekend -- but do it while still young so that you can actually hang!

Places To Visit In And Around Shibuya

The Clubs In Tokyo Will Make Your Jaw Drop

While exploring Shibuya I managed to find dozens of phenomenal clubs, cool little bars, amazing restaurants, and excellent places to shop. By day I got in my shopping and saw the cultural sights, but come nightfall I entered drinking mode. Every night I would hunt for a new club or bar to test it. I was not always successful, sometimes I would be lured in by previous haunts, but either way I got a lot of drinking done! A multitude of those venues are on the map below, for anyone who might be visiting Ebisu/Shibuya in the future.

While experiencing the nightlife of Tokyo be sure to also visit some of the big clubs in Shibuya, which are utterly amazing and very much worth investigating, despite their high cost. Club Atom is one of the clubs that I definitely recommend. We went there almost every weekend while Jared was in town visiting. It is located six stories up in this skyscraper, covers three independently-themed floors each with multiple bars, and is always packed full of cute local women! Club Harlem right next door is nice as well, but harder to get into on the weekends. The list goes on and on...

Nonbei Yokocho (Alley of the Drunkards)

And of course you cannot forget my favorite area Nonbei Yokocho, which translates as "Drunkard's Alley" or "Alley Of The Drunkards." I stumbled upon this place online and had to check it out for myself. Turns out that Nonbeiyokocho is just a few feet north of Shibuya Station. It is comprised of two parallel alleys that are home to around 50 miniature bars, usually only about 8 or 10 feet square with nothing more than four or five bar stools and a single bartender inside. Check out my photos from Non to get a better idea of just how small these bars really are.

There are a couple that are unfriendly to gaijin (durogatory term for a foreigner), but you will know those instantly as they will either not even serve you or hand you one beer but say that is all because "they are closing" or some similar excuse. If that should happen to you, no worries, just walk down to the next one and try again.

Nonbei Yokocho became like a second home to me while I was there. If I ever had a night where I was not sure what to do, I would start it at Non and before you know it the night would manifest itself. All of the best friends I made and best times I had originated from Nonbei Yokocho.

  For even more clubs check out the map below. Also marked cpl good restaurants and a universal ATM.


View Useful Places Around Shibuya in a larger map

Yep, the clubs over there are something else. Check out my article on the different locations around Tokyo for a better idea of just how much Tokyo varies from district to district. Below is a snippet from my old drunken ramblings on the original Shibuya Daze blog, provided for your amusement or, more likely, complete lack thereof:

...for any of y'all that have ever been to a rave, that is probably the closest thing I can compare it to -- but even that does not do justice to these kick-ass clubs. Let's try something: Imagine a rave, complete with a DJ, light-show, and fog machine, but now up the number of DJs to half-dozen and through in more lights and more fog machines. Take away all the people doing drugs and replace it with people getting drunk; Not too drunk though, most people here know when to stop. Now, still imagining, forget all the drama and arguments / fights that come up at raves and replace those with people all smiling, laughing, and telling stories. Now, still imagining, throw in a few huge bars offering great drinks at great prices, staffed with cute Asian ladies that refuse to take tips, and don't forget to add a couple more cute Asian women dancing up on the bar or stage. Then take this image that you have in your head, and put it on steroids, to really knock it up another few notches. That, my friends, is what all the clubs over here are like. It is unbelievable to say the least.

And, you know, while I was writing that I realized something else: in all the bars and clubs that Mayu and I have been to, we have not seen so much as one dispute or argument between people, not the slightest thing, whether it be between couples or just friends. Does not happen here. There is no drama whatsoever. Its the exact opposite of clubs back home, where there is always some drama or a fight about to break out, usually due to some drunken idiot. I am still amazed that with a city this size, and with that many people partying, that nothing happens. At least on the surface.

  Have you partied in Japan? Still thinking about a job as the throw-up guy? Apply below!

Published in Japan

This "Cool" Bar Puts A Shiver Of Satisfaction In Your Spine

Have you heard of the Ice Hotel in Sweden, or any of the subsequent ones that have opened in nearly two dozen other countries?

Absolut Ice Bar Tokyo

Well this is the same idea, only located in Roppongi, the infamous tourist district in the Minato ward of Tokyo. It is a warehouse kept at -5° C because the entire interior is made of ice sculptures.

The bar, the chairs and tables, the artwork, even the cups, all of which are handcarved and actually imported from the Ice Hotel in Sweden. You are even bundled up in an authentic Ice Hotel jacket; upon paying your cover charge the staff graciously helps you suit-up. From there you proceed through a intermediary room — kind of like when entering a shooting range — kept at or below 10° C.

Ice Bar Tokyo

This was definitely a cool ass place, no pun intended. The drinks were small and a little expensive though, but obviously you are paying for the scenery. It was ¥3500 cover just to get in (roughly $45 USD, but that is a normal Tokyo cover charge), and drinks were ¥1200 each ($15 USD). And yes, they were ridiculously small! Even though the ice cups are physically big chunks of ice, there is only a narrow hole drilled at the top of it, about an inch in diameter and maybe four inches down — basically nothing more than a Texas-sized shot. And you are forced to re-use your cups, as they are all imported from Sweden at great cost. The first one comes free with the first drink but after that, if you need a new glass due to melting or breakage you are charged ¥800 for the glass plus ¥1200 cost of the drink. If you keep your gloves on, you should be able to get about a half dozen drinks out of your ice cup before heat from your lips have melted it to the point of needing a new glass.

Absolut Ice Bar Tokyo

Absolut Ice Bar Tokyo

Absolut Ice Bar Tokyo

Absolut Ice Bar Tokyo

Additionally, it is worth mentioning that the Ice Bar Tokyo is owned by Absolut Vodka and as such you only have a choice between about a dozen-and-a-half to two dozen varying drinks, all containing a multitude of flavored Absolut vodkas mixed with assorted juices. Regardless of the fact I hate vodka now (too much of it when I was a younger), it was intriguing enough to spend an hour and a couple hundred dollars there in the freezing temperatures. It was also interesting to see how frequently the bartenders would swap out with the front stay, so that they could warm up briefly.

Derek Freal at the Absolut Ice Bar Tokyo

Derek Freal at the Absolut Ice Bar Tokyo

Yes, Tokyo's IceBar is one of those places that you only go for show. Now that I went once, I have no urge to go back. Its going to be exactly the same, the initial thrill is gone now that I have seen it. But it has visitor appeal, you know, its a fantastic place to take someone who is new to the city or never seen anything like that. Just be prepared to shell out a hundred thousand yen at the absolute minimum.

  Have you experienced this ice bar or any of the others? Share your comments below.

Derek Freal at the Absolut Ice Bar Tokyo

[ UPDATE ] Regretfully as of September 30th, 2011, IceBar Tokyo has closed their doors as part of the effort to control energy consumption in the wake of the earthquake is eastern Japan. With so many other businesses and families working hard to control their power usage, it is unjustifiable for IBT to waste such vast amounts of energy freezing a warehouse and maintaining such cold temperatures. Please visit the IceBar Tokyo official web site for more information on when they will open their doors again.

  Other notable cities around the world with ice bars: Monterrey, Mexico City, Panama City, Orlando, Amsterdam, London, Paris, Barcelona, Athens, Seoul, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Saint Petersburg, New Delhi, and Dubai.

Published in Japan

Translated as "Drunkards Alley" or "Alley Of The Drunkards," Nonbei Yokocho is two parallel alleys in Tokyo that contain a grand total of somewhere around 50 miniature bars, although sometimes it is mistakenly cited as having 200-250. However I certainly did not count anywhere near that many.

What do I mean by mini bar? Well, each one measures at most ten feet by ten feet, hardly enough room for more than a small bar with bartender and 4 or 5 barstools. Many actually feature a narrow staircase and an upstairs as well, which will hold a couple tiny tables to fit a few additional (skinny) people.

The best bar in Nonbei Yokocho, Tokyo!

Nonbei Yokocho, Shibuya ward, Tokyo, Japan

Nonbei Yokocho, Shibuya ward, Tokyo, Japan

Located just north of the bustling Shibuya station and lined against the eastern side of the train tracks to Harajuku, this neighborhood was built over 50 years ago but quickly became a prostitution hotspot. Businessmen would take the edge off with a drink or two in the lower level before making their way upstairs to the "tatami room," where their lady of the night was waiting. Nowadays the area has long since done away with the working girls but the bars not only remain, they have even developed their own one-of-a-kind charm and an almost cult-like following.

  Despite the proximity to the rest of the action in Shibuya, this area has been overlooked by many a Tokyo resident. Interestingly enough, it is fairly common for a visiting foreigner to be the one taking their Japanese friends to Nonbei Yokocho for the first time, rather than vice versa. How come? Because legend of this unique and hallowed nighttime location has permeated the world wide web. Any traveler who does even cursory research on Shibuya will undoubtedly stumble across the Alley Of The Drunkards. After all, this is the type of place which you never stop telling others about once you've experienced it for yourself.

Nonbei Yokocho, Shibuya ward, Tokyo, Japan

Nonbei Yokocho, Shibuya ward, Tokyo, Japan

After trying a couple dozen of the bars, a few charging "seat fees" and others decided anti-gaijin, my unquestionable favorite in all of Nonbeiyokocho was the aptly named Non. Without a doubt this cozy little establishment takes the gold medal all around, not just for atmosphere but also because we consistently met the absolute best people here. And trust me, we did a lot of exploring and experimenting with every new place we saw. That is one of the best things about this city: there is just so much of everything, you can constantly keeping trying new bars and clubs and restaurants and never have to repeat anything. It's simultaneously both fantastic and even a little overwhelming for some. Only the places which truly impressed would be deemed worthy of repeat visits, such as Club Atom and ShibuyaNUTS. Yes, this little bar indeed earned a large place in my heart. We would stop by usually three to four times a week, believe it or not. Most often our visit would only last an hour or two tops before moving on, but a few nights were spent entirely up and down Drunkards Alley. It was the best starter spot, without a doubt. Ridiculously close to my flat too ;)

Nonbei Yokocho, Shibuya ward, Tokyo, Japan

It was not that this one bar was fancier or offered anything that its' neighbors did not -- I mean just look at the photos below...it is so small! Much of the conversation actually happens in the alley itself and not the bar. However the one thing that this particular bar was never in short supply of was the hands-down best patrons. All of the interesting people we met and became friends with were initially introduced there. Everyone. There was Austin, the 20-year-old half-Japanese half-French local we became good friends with; Suzuki, the guy who owned his own jewelry design business and shop (which he had recently expanded to Hong Kong and New York); Isao, a local actor; the two cougars that Jared and I hooked up with, Mayu and Yuka; the Swedish fashion designers; the Canadian video game creators; several local businessmen and Yakuza guys we partied with; the list goes on and on.

Non was an impressive and unmatched hot-bed of friendly, out-going, and fun-loving people.

Nonbei Yokocho, Shibuya ward, Tokyo, Japan

Nonbei Yokocho, Shibuya ward, Tokyo, Japan

Nonbei Yokocho, Shibuya ward, Tokyo, Japan

Nonbei Yokocho, Shibuya ward, Tokyo, Japan

Even the bartender, Yoshi, was laid-back and unbelievably talkative. He made you feel appreciated and as such it was always very difficult to leave. That is probably a good part of the reason he always Tokyo friends, including the ones mentioned above, our first encounters with each all happened on different individual nights -- wild, huh? Amazing that such a little place could pack such a big punch.

The restrooms at Nonbei Yokocho, Shibuya ward, Tokyo, Japan

Finally, no article on Nonbei Yokocho would be complete without discussing the restrooms. Due to the fact that the bars are so small they do not have any individual bathrooms, there simply is not any space. Instead both customer and yes bartender alike must exit the bar and head to the most northern part of Nonbei Yokocho, where the two main parallel alleys are connected by a small perpendicular sidestreet, similar to an upside-down U. It is on this narrow connecting street that you will find a male restroom, three side-by-side urinals behind a pair of swinging doors a la American-Western style, as well as two locking female restrooms, of which each bar has a copy of the keys to.

And yes, the bartender does abandon his post and leave the customers alone if he must use the restroom. However as Japanese society is very polite and honest I never once saw anyone abuse this momentary lapse of freedom.

  Oh and a heads-up note for the ladies: it is best to familiarize yourself with squat toilets before visiting Nonbei Yokocho, lest you have a drunken learning experience you won't soon forget ;)

  And if you really want to experience all that the Tokyo nightlife offers, the local clubs are spectacular!

  Have you been to Nonbei Yokocho before? Curious to visit it now? What are your thoughts?

Published in Japan

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