3 Retro Tokyo Cafes to Check Out Along the Yamanote Line

Tokyo Food Tokyo 2022.04.27
After falling in love with soda floats, I've made it a mission to find the best in Tokyo, leading me to these three classic Japanese coffee shops.

Retro Cafes Are on Fire, and Interest Won't Be Cooling Any Time Soon

Just about anything retro-cool has been trendy among Japan's younger generations in recent years, and one obvious sign of this particular trend is the popularity of Japan's old-fashioned cafes and coffee shops, especially any shop with Showa-retro vibes - hearkening back to the fashions of mid-20th century Japan. A different experience from your standard coffee chain, or even Japan's many stylish modern cafes, the public has taken an interest in the unique atmospheres and menu items of these retro spots, inspiring plenty of shops to reach back into their history and make the old new again. Here are three of Tokyo's most popular retro cafes, found on my recent soda-float journeys, all three of which happen to be conveniently located along the JR Yamanote Line!

Ueno: Ojo Coffee (珈琲王城)

Located just behind the Marui Department Store that sits across from Ueno Station, Ojo Coffee is one of the most well-known old-fashioned coffee shops in the neighborhood. Back before the days of modern communication technology, this cozy coffee shop just steps from Ueno Station was an important meeting place, and even after many years and some renovations, it still maintains an air of vintage elegance, with its chandeliers and damask-upholstered seating.

In recent years, parfaits piled high with whipped cream have helped Ojo gain a presence online, and other light meals like egg sandwiches and thick toast have also found praise. Of course, during my recent visit, I stayed loyal to my go-to retro cafe choices: a melon soda float (クリームソーダ) and Japan's classic ketchupy spaghetti napolitan (ナポリタン), a combo which has never let me down so far. The drink came in a simple, rounded glass, and the Maraschino cherry adds a bright accent to the vanilla ice cream and melon soda. The cafe's special spaghetti napolitan is hearty, too, and is especially delicious with a sprinkle of parmesan on top.
Ojo Coffee, with its reputation and extremely convenient location, often has a line forming out front throughout the day on weekends. I recommend you avoid peak meal and cafe hours, or just visit on a weekday, to avoid a long wait! (All seats at Ojo are now non-smoking, as well - still somewhat uncommon at Japan's more old-fashioned establishments.)

Ojo Coffee (珈琲王城)
6-8-15 Ueno, Taito City, Tokyo
Access: 2 min from Ueno Station (JR/Tokyo Metro) or 3 min from Keisei Ueno Station
Hours: 8:00 - 19:00
Official Twitter

Shinjuku: L'ambre (名曲・珈琲 らんぶる)

Not far from Shinjuku San-chome, this famous music cafe takes up a surprisingly large space underground, in an atmosphere sometimes compared to a high-class hotel lobby. L'ambre opened its doors in 1950, which means the retro cafe has been a popular Shinjuku cafe for more than 70 years now, and the atmosphere feels like it hasn't changed much in all that time. The booths, chairs, tables, and decorations all call back to and era decades past, and the shop still plays the same classical music for customers to enjoy as they dine. It's a beloved hideaway for many long-time Shinjuku residents.
The food menu at L'ambre is mainly focused on sandwiches and thick-cut toast, alongside sweet options like parfaits and slices of cake. But of course, as a diehard soda float + spaghetti fan, I ordered another melon soda float, this time with spaghetti bolognese. As it turns out... you might be better off ordering their popular toast or sandwiches after all. But in any case, the shop is definitely worth a visit for anyone who likes their cafes to come with a real sense of history. (The cafe is mostly non-smoking, although some floor allow smoking at some times.)

L'ambre (名曲・珈琲 らんぶる)
3-31-3 Shinjuku, Shinjuku City, Tokyo 
Access: 2 min from Shinjuku-sanchome Station (Tokyo Metro), or 3 min from Shinjuku Station
Hours: 9:00 - 18:00
More Information (jp)

Takadanobaba: Cafe Roman (喫茶ロマン)

The first time I heard about Roman was when I was watching the Japanese drama People Who Do Not Rent, starring Takahisa Masuda. At the beginning of the very first episode, there's a scene where characters drink soda floats on the vinyl booths next to the cafe's huge windows, and I immediately went to google to find out where the scene had been filmed. It turned out to be Roman, which has apparently found its way into some other Japanese dramas as well, and has even served as a backdrop for a photoshoot with famous actress Akiko Kikuchi. From the scene in the drama, I always assumed that the huge windows were looking right out onto the sidewalk, but it turns out that Roman is actually on the second floor! It's a long, narrow space, with a quiet atmosphere. Unfortunately, visiting for lunch, the window seats were all full and I ended up at a normal table.
Cafe Roman opened in 1969, and it has a casual family-run vibe to go with the retro style. Personally, I couldn't help but find myself impressed by the elegantly dressed woman who seems to run the shop. The food and drinks - the standard melon soda float and spaghetti napolitan - were pretty good, at about the same level as Ojo Coffee (although the cherry on top was a little less red, which was a pity).

I only later found out that you can make reservations at Cafe Roman, so if you're hoping for a seat by one of those fantastic windows, I'd recommend calling ahead! (Smoking is allowed throughout the cafe, so it's not open to minors.)

Cafe Roman (喫茶ロマン)
1-18-11 Takadanobaba, Shinjuku City, Tokyo
Access: 1 min from Takadanobaba Station (JR/Seibu)
Hours: 11:30 - 21:00
Official Instagram
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