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GLOBAL : CORRESPONDENTS' COURSES : Times writers around the world reveal the names of their favoritelittle-known restaurants : TOKYO

October 20, 1985| Sam Jameson

For the young-at-heart interested less in merely a meal and more in an opportunity to meet Japanese on a common ground, Donzoko offers a distinctive adventure--the common ground being music.

Established in 1951, Donzoko is one of the oldest night spots in the area generally known as Shinjuku San-chome (a tame neighbor of the more famous and raunchier Shinjuku district). Decorated with a log-cabin-like interior and adorned with more than 400 bottles of whiskey and other spirits that customers leave for their next visit, it attracts a clientele with a median age between the mid-20s to mid-30s, singles and couples. Occasionally some old customers come back for nostalgic visits.

Donzoko's first, second and third floors are for customers primarily interested in conversation. The music is in the basement, which seats up to 40 people (packed sardine-style). Mitsuko Watanabe has been playing the accordion for 25 years, with the waiters--and then the customers--providing the singing.

Almost no English is spoken by the employees, and the menu (the most expensive item on it is a large pizza for $7) is written only in Japanese. (Two small pizzas at $7.50 are a better bargain.) Other categories range from meat ( teppan-yaki steak is $3.60) to rice and vegetable dishes. Snacks also are available. Drink-only customers are welcome.

All American-style drinks are available, as are Polish vodka, Spanish wine, Japanese sake and the house specialty, the Don-koku (Donzoko cocktail, $1.67), a blend of hair-raising shochu (a sake byproduct) safely diluted with a lemon-juice-like mix. Except for the best brandy ($5.40 a glass), all drinks are $2.50 or less.

So popular is the place that former Donzoko waiters have, over the years, opened 10 bar-restaurants of their own, all within walking distance of Donzoko. The manager, Koichiro Aikawa (known as Ai-chan), started as a waiter in 1962.

A taxi driver won't recognize the address but is likely to know a stage theater called Suehiro-tei in Shinjuku San-chome. With the Suehiro-tei at your back, go one short block forward and turn left into a narrow alleyway wide enough to accommodate only bicycles. Donzoko, with a natural-wood sign painted in big, red letters, is the third house on the right.

Donzoko, 3-10-2 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo; telephone 354-7748-9 or 354-6065.

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