[July 31st, 2018] Tokyo is one of my favourite cities on earth in which to enjoy cocktails (and pretty much everything else for that matter). The bartenders are, for the most part, entirely formal and take the craft very seriously. Many of the bars ooze an authentic Madman feel, and you will not feel out of the place showing up for a drink in a suit and fedora, especially at one of the city’s many fine hotel bars. Prepare to spend a decent buck on drinks in Japan, however, and to pay a cover charge just for the privilege of a seat at the bar. It’s well worth it though, to watch old school bartenders close their eyes and repeat a hard shake the exact way they’ve done it a million times before.
- Tender Bar (left image): There are a million reasons to visit Tokyo but going to have a drink at Kazuo Uyeda’s incredible bar is reason enough. The old school author of Cocktail Techniques, his bar stock is a bit of a blast from the past, and he still uses ingredients just to add wild colour to a drink, which is not something really happening elsewhere. All that said, he is an amazing bartender and has created some incredible drinks, including the esteemed Hideriboshi, one of my favourites. The bar itself is small but incredibly elegant. Located up in an office building, it is basically exactly what I would want in my own bar. The service is typically Japanese, highly formal and elegant. Well, well worth a visit.
- WGB-High Five Bar (right image): Routinely ranked as one of the world’s best bars, this tiny spot in an another office building is actually remarkably similar to the Tender Bar, even in the its use of the hard shake. Great drinks and also well worth a visit.
- The Highlander Bar at The Hotel Okura: I don’t own a kilt but if I did I’d wear it to this great hotel bar. Long on whiskey and a bit short on inventive cocktails, this spot is mostly about the amazing ambience in a hotel that oozes 1960’s. I just heard this icon is scheduled for demolition along with the rest of the incredible hotel. Really sad. Go before it disappears (too late… it was torn down)
- The Imperial Bar at the Imperial Hotel: Though the original Frank Lloyd Wright hotel (which survived the great 1927 earthquake and subsequent fire) is gone, the bar has withstood multiple renovations and evokes a genuine feel of the 1950’s and 1960’s. The back of the bar is oddly sunken, meaning the bartenders operate at face level with clients, which is something I’d not seen before. The drinks are classic and typical of a hotel bar. Don’t miss it.
- The New York Bar at The Park Hyatt: this is a stylish bar with astonishing views of Tokyo. It’s a place to be seen and to be seen. The cocktails are good though, and the place is worth the view alone.
- Bar Gen Yamamoto: There aren’t really words for the Gen Yamamoto experience. When I asked Gen for other bar recommendations in Tokyo he replied in spotty but confident English that he prefers juice over alcohol. Little did I know at the time how prescient his words would turn out to be as he served the first of our six course “Japanese-sized” cocktails. The room is no bigger than a small bedroom and sparsely adorned in the style of a traditional Japanese tea house. The bar itself is made of a giant slab of cypress and imbues the space with a sweet, coniferous essence. There are ten seats, and only about the same number of bottles behind the bar on a small shelf. Gen mixes seasonally or kaiseki style, and in the summer our cocktails were made from fruits like tomatoes, grapes, white corn and the Japanese yuzu. Most importantly, and oddly, he uses chilled spirits rather than ice, meaning the cocktails end up cool but not cold. It somehow works beautifully, however, and the stunning glassware only amplifies the experience. This is not a bar anyone should skip in Tokyo, or anywhere in the world for that matter. It’s that special.
- Radio Bar: I’m not sure I can remember a bar that more resembles that which I would open myself that Radio Bar. It is a classic, traditional spot, dimly lit, classy and decorated in rich woods and dark greens. The bartenders are typical for formal Japan: white server jackets and ties. It’s as if the bartending scene in Japan is stuck in the 1950’s, and yet we’re all so much better off for it. Radio Bar is the way bars should be. Enough said.
- WGB-Star Bar: As the only current Japanese entry on the WGB, Star Bar must obviously be on everyone’s Tokyo bar list. The martini I ordered was the best of my life, which is saying so much as I’ve literally ordered thousands of them across the globe. As my first cocktail, a seasonal yuzu sour, was nothing more than adequate, I quickly came to understand the WGB ranking when the martini arrived. The head bartender apparently used nothing more than standard Beefeater gin with a house mix of dry vermouth. The single olive garnished the glass skewered straight on by a long toothpick. Anyway, somehow, it all added up to a martini masterpiece, and I’m crushed I ran out of time to go back for another. The bar is in the basement of a small office building and seats no more than fifteen people. It also allows smoking, which was a bit of a shock to my system, but the martini of the Gods made up for everything. Please go and please order the same. It will change your life.
- Bar Orchard: I wasn’t sure what to make of this postage stamp-sized spot on the sixth floor of an office building (as is so common with Tokyo bars). Unlike every other bar in the city I’d seen, Bar Orchard was littered with an eclectic mix of just about anything they could use to beat the stuffiness out of the typical Japanese drinking establishment. The cocktails were wild and ridiculous. The place reminded me a lot of famous Nottingham Forest in Milan or The Artesian in London, which I’m not sure is a good thing. The drinks are somewhat conceptual rather than drinkable. My mezcal drink arrived in a box with day of the dead Mexican amulets and a small fire inside. It was pretty funny, and the bartender laughed in a way the Japanese normally don’t. Worth a visit but, ultimately, not my thing.
- *Bar Mimi
- Mori Bar
- *Ben Fiddich