Japan is famous for lots of different types of alcohol – whisky, sake, umeshu, beer but what is perhaps lesser known is the quality of the cocktails that you can find in the most unassuming of places. Making cocktails is taken seriously in Japan – it is considered an art and it really shows in the perfectly balanced finished products. One point to note is that location is not the key when it comes to finding the best cocktails bars – the bars where the bar-tenders focus on a smaller number of covers (thereby preserving the quality of their drinks) are often hidden on random floors at not particularly fancy addresses. From perfected classics to new and inventive drinks, there is a bar for you in Tokyo – in no particular order, my top five are…
1. Code Name Mixology
If theatrics and the use of unusual ingredients float your boat then Nagumo-san’s menu will intrigue you, the inclusion of foam, smoke etc thrill you and the crazy flavours he manages to infuse into a drink tantalise your taste buds…Blue Cheese martini anyone?! Or maybe some Foie Gras vodka.
If that doesn’t float your boat, then Code Name Mixology is still worth a visit – like lots of the best bar tenders Nagumo-san can also make a mean cocktail just from a brief summary of flavours you like or based on your mood that day.
Code Name Mixology can be found at 3-14-3 Akasaka, 2F, Minato-ku, Tokyo
2. New York Bar
While I know I said in my opening paragraph that it is best to look for bars in unassuming places there is, of course, an exception to the rule and that exception is the New York Bark in the Park Hyatt. Set on the 52nd floor of this wonderful hotel, you can enjoy classic cocktails with a backdrop of jazz and a view of Tokyo’s mesmerising and seemingly endless city lights.
The New York Bar can be found at the Park Hyatt Tokyo Japan, 〒163-1055 東京都新宿区 西新宿3−7−1−2
3. Bar High Five
Ueno-san’s Ginza bar and his delicious cocktails have earned their reputation for a reason. Ueno-san is kind, friendly and welcoming (to both locals and foreigners alike). He makes classic cocktails like no one else – I have made time to savour his Singapore Sling on every trip I’ve made to Japan so far (and its a tradition I don’t plan on changing!)
If you can, sit at the bar – Ueno-san is always keen to educate you on the art of cocktail making and the innovative cocktails he sees when judging competitions around the world and he has some great stories. If you’re really lucky he might demonstrate his ice carving skills for you…
Bar High Five can be found at Japan, 〒104-0061 東京都中央区 Ginza 7-2-14 NO.26 Polestar Building, 4th Floor
Or the library bar, quickly became one of our favourite haunts when we lived in Japan. With books at every turn, a secret room and an amazing rooftop terrace for the summer These is a great venue. And, looks aside, the drinks are also great – you are presented with a fresh fruit bowl and the bar tenders will whip up a cocktail based on your choice of fruits and base alcohol…and I don’t remember them once failing to be delicious.
Library Lounge These can be found at Japan, 〒106-0031 Tokyo, Minato, Nishiazabu, 2−15−12, カルテットビル 1F
5. Bar K
Although it veers slightly off the Tokyo theme, I didn’t think I could make a list of my favourite bars without including Bar K (located in Osaka).
Similar to Bar High Five in its focus on the classics (both in terms of service and cocktails), Bar K is not one to be missed if you have the time for a detour. They literally seem to be able to make anything – even if they’ve never heard of it before. Trust me…give them the list of the ingredients and without any measurements they just seem to get the balance and flavour everytime! And if you’re settling in for a night of heavy drinking, I can seriously recommend their chicken wings to soak up some of the alcohol!
Bar K can be found at 1-3-3 Sonezakishinchi, Kita Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 530-0002, Japan