Get stuck setting up a bonenkai? Let us help
It's December in Tokyo, and if you are a productive member of modern society over the drinking age that means one thing: bonenkai. Literally meaning "gathering to forget the year," these parties are an excuse for Tokyoites from all walks of life to congregate with large groups of friends or coworkers and drown all memories of the previous year in copious amounts of alcoholic libations. The year 2009 is definitely one that needs to be forgotten.
While normally a time for celebration, bonenkai season can also be frustrating. Namely, it's a bum gig for the boss/senpai/other person of authority to appoint you kanji -- the unfortunate individual responsible for setting up reservations and gathering payment from all participants. With seemingly every resident of Tokyo drinking on the same Friday night, finding an open place can be a challenge to say the least.
We at CNNGo have put together a quick-and-dirty guide to three possible places to turn to for bonenkai salvation. These options are based on typical large-scale party preferences and budgets.
One of the first nationwide izakaya chain establishments, Shirokiya played a large part in changing the image of the izakaya from a cramped, dark hangout for salarymen into the oversized come-one-come-all style of today. While you'll never mistake the food for haute cuisine, the menu reflects what most Japanese like to munch on while they drink: edamame, meat dishes and heaps o' fried stuff. Luckily, they keep the menu selections varied enough that health-conscious patrons should be able to find something as well, perfect for when you've been tasked to set up an office party that includes picky modern OLs.
The low prices reflect the no-frills nature of the service, but the staff here do a good job keeping the drinks flowing. Go in with modest expectations, and your party should come out feeling satisfied.
We recommend the Kabuki-cho branch for its spacious interior and convenient location for commuters.
Shirokiya: Kabuki-cho 1-21-1, Shinjuku-ku, tel. 03 3209 6788, all-you-can-drink course: ¥4,300 per person with food (two hours)
Every good bonenkai inevitably degenerates to point at which an older male reveler, flush with drink and a necktie around the head, screams out "Let's go to karaoke next!" The other inebriated folks then treat this declaration as the best idea ever.
In that case, why not kick things off with a bang at a place that already has karaoke?
We recommend Pasela Ginza, a large complex featuring Caribbean resort-themed décor and karaoke in every room.
The menu sports pasta and salads in addition to the typical finger-food fare. The results are hit and miss, but hopefully everyone will be too smashed to notice.
Drinks are served fast and loose, and the rooms are big enough for the drunken swaying that will eventually occur once someone starts belting out Yutaka Ozaki.
Prices are reasonable considering what's offered, and the location in Ginza provides a nice change of pace and pleasant surroundings.
Pasela Ginza: Ginza 6-13-16, Chuo-ku, tel. 0120 759 418, bonenkai special: all-you-can-drink at ¥5,500 per person with food (two hours)
OK, OK, we know that the Hub is a convenient symbol of Commonwealth expat degeneracy, but the fact remains that the quasi-British-pub-style atmosphere at Hub is just different enough from the izakaya norm to make participants feel that you went to the trouble to set up something special.
The typical bar food here leans toward the Western side of the spectrum, with such "delicacies" as fish-and-chips and shepherd's pie. Guinness and Bass are on tap for those whose beer vocabularies extend beyond Kirin and Asahi. Nothing on offer here will blow anyone's mind, but you may be surprised at the appreciation shown by folks at not having to cram more edamame, especially if they have more than one bonenkai this season.
We wholeheartedly recommend the Ichigaya location, which (believe it not) is secluded and very quiet. With attentive staff and an honest-to-God solid wood bar, the Ichigaya branch goes a long way towards improving Hub's reputation as a haven for bottom-feeding foreigners.
The Hub: Kudan-minami 4-7-22, Chiyoda-ku, tel. 03 5276 3478, "English Course” all-you-can-drink including Guinness/Bass: ¥5000 per person with food (two hours)