Tokyo’s 8 Bit Cafe serves up drinks named after gamers’ favorite digital characters
By AARON KIDD | Stars and Stripes | Published: February 26, 2016
Pac-Man gobbles a power pellet. Link holds up a piece of the Triforce. Mario dashes past Bowser to save the princess.
Bar patrons can replay these classic video-game moments while sipping cocktails named after their favorite digital characters at 8 Bit Cafe, one of Tokyo’s most popular retro-gaming spots.
This well-established concept bar, about a 10-minute walk from Shinjuku Station’s east exit, transports customers to a time long before Xbox and PlayStation, when beeps, blips and rudimentary graphics ruled the arcades.
About a decade ago, owner and bartender Nao Fukuda opened this fifth-floor walk-up watering hole where kitschy knickknacks and relics of video games past fill nearly available space. You’ll find boxes of cartridges for the Famicom (the classic Nintendo Entertainment System), Super Famicom (Super Nintendo), table-top and handheld game systems, character figurines, a giant working Nintendo Game Boy and a seemingly endless supply of comics, game-strategy guides and vintage instruction booklets.
8 Bit boasts a cool and relaxed vibe. The crowd during my visit was a mix of foreigners and Japanese, many of whom seemed too absorbed in their games to talk to one another. Video game soundtracks played over the sound system, but the bar also hosts live musicians and DJs on a regular basis.
Apart from all that nostalgia, 8 Bit’s major draw is cocktails named after classic game characters. Among the most popular is the Dr. Mario, a nod to the 1990 puzzle game for the original Nintendo. It’s vodka, gin, Coke and Dr. Pepper served in a beaker with test tube filled with sugar pills on the side. It’s a fun drink — you add the pills yourself — that makes for a great photo-op; however, it’s a bit on the sweet side and quite pricey at 800 yen (about $6.75).
The bright-red Flower of Evil (700 yen) proved to be a disappointment. Named for the Little Shop of Horrors-like plant that darts out of pipes in “Super Mario Bros.,” this drink features Campari and Maker’s Mark bourbon served on the rocks with a slice of lemon. The small serving arrived sloppily presented in a large glass, and the flavor was not unlike over-the-counter cough syrup.
A highlight was the Metroid — named after the 1986 NES action-adventure classic — which features Midori, vodka and tonic. It’s a slightly tart, grapefruit-like cocktail that’s tinted green by the melon liqueur.
8 Bit also offers scotch, bourbon, whiskey, sake and shochu (600-900 yen), and the extensive drink menu includes quite a few non-alcoholic offerings, including hot and iced coffee, teas, flavored milks (banana, strawberry, mango and melon), juices and cider (500-800 yen).
8 Bit’s food menu features 500-yen “quick snacks,” such as mixed nuts and pickled vegetables; “special snacks,” which include cheeses, pasta, sausages and something called Tomato Princess of the Salad Kingdom (600-1,680 yen). The cafe also offers “original food courses” (2,000-4,000 yen), in which a “hidden menu may be served … maybe,” according to the menu. Dessert offerings (500 yen) include homemade custard pudding, vanilla ice cream with rum or Bailey’s, homemade cheesecake and chocolate walnut cake.
Prepare to follow some rules, though, if you want to eat, drink and play at 8 Bit Cafe: 1: You must order at least one drink every 90 minutes. 2: It’s OK to take photos, but don’t use a flash, and no video or audio recording is allowed. 3: You must share your table with strangers if the bar becomes too crowded. 4: No napping.
Location: 3-8-9 Shinjuku, 5F, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo (Q Building)
Hours: 6 p.m. to midnight Monday, Wednesday and Thursday; 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Tuesday.
Prices: 500-yen seating fee; drinks start at 600 yen; food ranges from 500-yen appetizers to 4,000-yen meal sets.
Directions: A short walk from Shinjuku Station’s east exit. Cross the street near the Studio Alta building, turn right and continue for about 10 minutes. Look for Sekaido on the right and take the next left. You’ll find the cafe’s entryway a bit farther down, in front of the Shinjuku-sanchome subway entrance.
Information: 03-3358-0407; 8bitcafe.net (in Japanese). English menu available.