A visit to The Lockup is an experience you won’t forget. I know, because more than 10 years ago the first ever theme restaurant I visited was a branch of this themed restaurant in Shibuya, Tokyo, and I never forgot it. The jail cell rooms and especially the thrilling “lights out” show etched themselves permanently in my memories. Although the Shibuya branch closed down before I could visit again, I discovered The Lockup Shinjuku and decided to relive the experience there. I was not disappointed.
The entrance to The Lockup Shinjuku is located on the 7th floor of a building in Kabuki-cho. The elevator doors open into a darkly lit room with creepy posters and scrawls on the walls. We followed the signs and opened a door which led to a room with a screen broadcasting an image of a mega-chinned cartoon man in a pink suit, whom I imagine is supposed to be the prison warden.
A heavy-looking door with graffitied red Japanese words was at the end of the room. We couldn’t open it, however we pushed or tried to slide it.
Suddenly, loud noises and blast of air pelted us, making up jump. The door slid open by itself and we were greeted by a girl dressed in a police uniform, who ushered us inside the jailhouse. After asking for our reservation, she told us to choose one person to get handcuffed.
I pointed to my friend.
“What bad thing have you done today?” she asked my friend as she slapped the cuffs on.
“Um…I bought all the toilet paper,” my friend said. (This was at the height of the toilet paper panic buying due to the novel coronavirus).
The staff couldn’t help but smile at the subtle reference to current affairs and led us through the dark corridor to our jail cell in the corner. We passed many other jail cells along the way, some empty, some with people dining jovially inside.
Once we reached our cell, the police girl explained how to order and what was included in our all-you-can-eat-and-drink. She then slammed the bars of our cell door closed, leaving us to our own devices.
The whole restaurant is extremely dark and dimly-lit only by weak neon lights. This adds to the eerie atmosphere, which will be essential for the “show” later on. There is a physical menu, but it’s kind of an effort to read given how dark it is. You self-order from iPads at each table, which is common practice for a lot of chain izakayas.
We had booked the all-you-can-eat-and-drink course for 3,080 yen. Because we went on a Saturday night, there was a two-hour limit. If you go between Monday to Thursday, or after 8:15pm on Friday to Sunday and public holidays, you can get three hours.
The all-you-can-eat comprised of many carbohydrates-based dishes that filled us up quickly. But there were also a small selection of salads, meat, and dessert dishes. Some were presented in fun, creepy ways. This included a mummy Caesar salad, okonomiyaki blocks arranged in the shape of a crucifix, and karaage with pink tartar sauce. Taste-wise, it was average.
Some dishes even came with their own “show.” For example, the waitress who brought the creme brulee we ordered told us to yell “Ghost!” and then “Busters!” as she fired a flame onto the dessert.
To prevent gluttony and wasting of food, the system only allows you to order two dishes at one time. You are meant to finish those two dishes before ordering more, but nothing stops you from ordering even if you haven’t.
The all-you-can-drink does not include The Lockup’s “original cocktails,” which are the restaurant’s iconic horror-themed alcoholic beverages served in an assortment of beakers, test tubes, syringes, IV drips…you name it. If you wish to include them, you need to add 300 yen per person to the course price.
Of course, you can also not choose any courses and just order ala carte from the complete menu.
In the words of Rihanna, this is what you came for. A few times a night, the establishment runs a special immersive “performance” for all patrons. For us, it happened towards the end of our all-you-can-eat session.
Without warning, the menu iPad starting flashing with an image of a siren and yellow police tape with the words “warning.” A male voice starting telling us in a panicked tone that there had been a security breach in one of the sectors. Everything went darker than it already was, and overhead lights started flashing.
And then the monsters came.
Despite knowing it was all an act, it was genuinely scary to see a wolf-headed creature come to our cell door and rip it open to “attack” us. When I saw him appear, I had to fight off the instinct to jump up and hold that cell door shut.
He left shortly after to terrorize the next cell, but just when you think you can breathe a sigh of relief, another creature from your nightmares pays a visit. This time it was a glowing Japanese doll, which in all honesty freaked me out more than the wolf.
This was followed by a hooded guy in a gas mask who reminded me of Bane from Batman. He blew air into my face with the trunk-like contraption he carried in his hand.
I think there are plenty more monsters they have, so you never know which ones you’re going to get that night.
Finally, after around 15 minutes of the monsters running around scaring people in the restaurant, they are “captured” by the police (i.e. wait staff), who make a show of handcuffing them and leading them back to their cell.
The whole act is convincing and a lot of fun because it is 100% immersive for everyone at the restaurant. It is also pretty scary, so don’t bring young kids or you may traumatize them for life.
The cost for individual dishes and cocktails is actually very reasonable, and comparable to that of a regular chain izakaya. Course prices are also what you would expect for a standard nomikai. As a rough guide, set aside 4,000 yen per person for the night. More if you want to order those fun cocktails.
I feel establishments like this are even more value-for-money than your normal izakaya because of the included entertainment you get!
Getting to The Lockup Shinjuku
The Lockup Shinjuku is located on the 6th and 7th floors of Shinjuku Square Building in Kabuki-cho, next to a Daikokuya drugstore. The entrance is on the 7th floor. It can be easily accessed from any of the Shinjuku stations, but the closest is the one on the Seibu Shinjuku Line, and Shinjuku-nishiguchi Station on the Toei Oedo subway line. From JR Shinjuku Station, take the east exit and walk for 5 mins.
Address: 東京都新宿区歌舞伎町1-16-3 新宿スクエアビル6～7F
6F-7F Shinjuku Square Building, 1-16-3 Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
The Lockup Shinjuku is open from 5pm to midnight on weekdays/days before a public holiday, and 12pm to midnight on weekends and public holidays. Last order for food and drinks are half an hour before closing.
How to make a booking
Bookings are not essential, but can be made easily on the official website (Japanese only) or by calling them directly.
You can browse the available courses on the website and specify which you want at the time of booking (if any). You can also choose whether you want a table or private room. There are 158 seats available, with party rooms capable of hosting groups of up to 40 people.
Final rating: The Lockup Shinjuku
Entertainment: 10/10, full points! The “prison break monsters” show is 100% immersive and genuinely scary despite knowing it’s all an act.
Food: 6/10, my judgement may be a little skewed because we chose the all-you-can-eat course so the selection was limited. But looking at other reviews, many others have also said the food was below average. Go for the thrills and don’t expect gourmet cuisine.
Customer service: 8/10, pretty average actually, but bonus points for the staff being all in police uniform outfits and acting the part.
Cost performance: 8/10, prices are what you would expect for your run-of-the-mill izakaya, but the added entertainment and themed dishes are a lot of fun.
Overall: 8/10, I thoroughly enjoyed myself at The Lockup Shinjuku and would go again. Maybe I’ll try ordering ala carte next time and get an IV drip cocktail.
Check out my other reviews of interesting theme cafes and restaurants in Tokyo!