Top 5 bars in… Tokyo, Japan
While traditionally Shibuya has been the go-to destination for nightlife in Japan’s capital, other areas are grabbing the attention these days, finds James Lawrence.
*This feature was originally published in the May 2018 issue of The Spirits Business
You can’t see the Great Wall from orbit – that’s what NASA calls a “space-based myth” – but you’d have a job missing Tokyo. One of Asia’s biggest and most vibrant cities, Tokyo has an energy that’s become legendary. It’s a city that constantly exhausts and exhilarates, somehow typifying modern Japan while simultaneously being unlike anywhere else in the country. Above all, this is a city of action. You won’t spot many Tokyoites contemplating life in the street as others hurry past, and skyscrapers seemingly form before your eyes.
The city also boasts one of the most diverse and fascinating nightlife scenes on the planet. A typical evening might involve sipping beer at a tachinomi standing bar, dining at a cosy izakaya (a Japanese-style gastropub), enjoying seasonal cocktails at a mixology counter, before heading out to a hip-hop club or singing karaoke à la Bill Murray in Lost in Translation. Today, the city has an inventive and wide-ranging offering of temptations, running the gamut from gritty student dives to elegant, fashion-conscious establishments. Louche or sophisticated, your wish is their command, although remember that drinks are far pricier here than the rest of Japan.
The real key, however, to enjoying a night out in Tokyo is to know your district. Shibuya is the obvious place to start – as one of Tokyo’s most densely packed and brightly lit central zones, it’s no surprise that Shibuya stays up late with countless watering holes popular with students, expats and tourists.
On the more sophisticated side is Ginza, a chameleon-like district that transforms from a shopping destination into Tokyo’s most upmarket nightlife hotspot, boasting scores of chic bars and restaurants. It’s glamorous, if a little overblown – bohemian Shimokitazawa and Ebisu are Tokyo’s hottest tickets at the moment. Their USP is offering scores of izakayas, serving extraordinarily good value food and drink in the most authentic of settings. It’s the ideal start to any night out, often without a tourist in sight.
Click through the following pages to discover the top five bars in Tokyo, Japan.
1-14-1 Ebisunishi, Shibuya-ku
Our favourite tachinomi, Buri is popular with young professionals who arrive after work in their droves to sample fantastic value rice wine from all over Japan.
Its walls are lined with brightly decorated glass saké cups – a shrine to Japan’s signature tipple.
Bar High Five
Efflore Ginza 5 Building BF, 5-4-15 Ginza, Chūō-ku
A living legend among Tokyo’s bartending elite, Hidetsugu Ueno has been mixing perfect Singapore Slings and Dry Martinis for decades.
His bar is chic, inviting and unpretentious – a celebration of, among other things, Japanese whisky.
1-25-10 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku
The trick is finding it. The bar is secluded in Nonbei Yokocho (roughly translated as ‘drunken alley’), a maze of small atmospheric bars next to Shibuya station.
Bar Piano is the best of these – the décor is certainly astonishing: an orgy of red velvet, chandeliers, paintings and stuffed animal heads. Not to mention, of course, the great cocktails.
1-10-23 Nakameguro (Riverside Terrace 101), Meguro-ku
With its striking fireplace, taxidermy art and rustic decorations on the wall, Cabin feels right at home in hipster central Nakameguro.
Owner Yuri Shirako is one of Tokyo’s finest mixologists, updating the classics with inventive swagger. Mojitos, for example, are crammed with sweet yuzu citrus fruit juice and the shiso leaves often used to wrap sushi.
It’s also a whisky paradise, with bottlings spanning Japanese, Bourbon, Scotch and Irish expressions.
The Bar at Ritz-Carlton Tokyo
Tokyo Midtown, 45th floor, 9-7-1 Akasaka, Minato-ku
Offering the finest views in Tokyo, the Ritz-Carlton’s signature bar is enviably situated on the 45th floor, a destination that Bill Murray himself would have undoubtedly fallen in love with.
Service, as you’d expect, is first rate, as are the inventive cocktails, overseen by maestro bartender Kentaro Wada.