I have to depart from typical articles dealing with Japanese historical and cultural sites to detail my favorite Izakaya in all of Japan. Get ready for it... Ichi...Ni...San...Da!!!
Fans of Japanese Pro Wrestling and students of Japanese politics will likely be familiar with that catchphrase, as it belongs to someone who rose from humble origins to become one of Japan Pro Wrestling's greats and later parlayed his popularity and drive to improve Japan's foreign policy into election victories to earn a seat in the Japanese Parliament. Of course, I am referring to the one and only アントニオ猪木--Antonio Inoki.
Inoki was born in Yokohama but transplanted to Brazil as a child when labor was short. He became an athlete and was discovered by Japan Pro Wrestling's original champion, Rikidozan, and brought back to Japan to become one of the most recognizable icons in the country.
What does any of this have to do with Izakaya? Well, the Inoki Saka-bar owes its name and influence to the wrestler turned politician, and the theme of the Izakaya reflects the larger-than-life individual. The maître d' rings a bell when you and your party enters and the staff cheers. Unlike most Japanese Izakaya, which feel like the walls are closing in, Inoki Saka-bar is spacious and welcomes interactions between different parties. In fact, every so often, the bartenders will lead a round of collective "Rock Paper Scissor" matches where one member of the staff will square off with hordes of customers in a winner-stays, loser-goes matchup until only one customer is left standing to win the iconic Inoki red scarf or other merchandise.
The food, owing in part to Inoki's heritage, has international influence and ranges from Japanese style tonteki to nachos to ribs and sausage. Meat is a common theme, but the most entertaining is ordering the salad, which is always served with the staff leading you and your party in a cheer: "Ichi...Ni...San...SALADA!"
The beer flows freely and in sizes that reflect the larger-than-life individual whose face adorns the mugs. You can arrange for a course menu with all-you-can-drink, but the prices are reasonable enough that the best thing to do is just order as you go and split the tab at the end (it will likely end up cheaper than the set courses, anyway).
Inoki Saka-bar is about a five minute walk from Shinjuku station. For those of you who know where Golden Gai is, it is only a stone's throw away. For those of you who are newer to the area, reference the map below, and zehi, go find your 闘魂(fighting spirit) with new friends at Inoki Saka-bar!