Answers from Our Experts (3)
Tokyo is, without question, the world’s best city for drinkers. You could pick a drink and find a bar devoted to it. (Rum? Try Tafia in Nishi Azabu. Beer? Popeye, Craft Beer Market or Goodbeer Faucets. Vodka? Go to Bloody Doll. Absinthe? Bar Trench. Sherry? Sherry Club. Whisky or wine? There are hundreds of those.)
The Ginza district is home to the world’s most obsessive cocktail makers. They obsess about technique, move with precision, and favor classics over offbeat innovations. Star Bar, High Five, Little Smith and Mohri Bar are the cream of the crop.
For only-in-Tokyo experiences, try Kamiya Bar, the oldest western-style bar in the capital. It serves beers with a proprietary sweet liquor called Denki Bran. Or head to Shinjuku’s Golden Gai ditrict. It’s crammed with around 250 tiny, rickety bars, some seating less than a dozen customers. Of all the choices, Albatross and La Jetee are reliable for a warm welcome.
For creative bartending with a Western sense, head to Fuglen, Bar Trench or Bar Tram. All three serve cocktails you'll never see anywhere else.
And if you're looking for antique spirits, Kohaku in Yushima and Bar Odin in Ebisu are both stock bottles older than your grandfather.
And it would be wrong to miss Gen Yamamoto, a beautiful 8-seater bar that serves courses of ingeneous fruit cocktails.
Sake fans are spoiled for choice in Tokyo. If you’re new to nihonshu, as it’s called in Japan (the word sake actually refers to any alcoholic beverage), the one of the best places to get an introduction is at the Meishu Center in Hamamatsucho, a retail shop/standing bar hybrid which offers three-glass tasting flights starting at Y500.
If you’re ready to get more serious, head to Kuri in Ginza (or their newer standing bar in Shimbashi) for six-glass tasting flights. Shinjuku Moto Stand has a weekly changing menu of brews from small, boutique producers.
Although a lot of premium sake is meant to be drunk chilled, some varieties take well to heat. Check out hole-in-the-wall Fukube in Nihonbashi -- a very Tokyo experience. But note that they don’t serve cold sake. At all. In Shinjuku, there’s Kokoromusubi, a cozy, welcoming izakaya (sake pub) that takes great care in warming their brews.
For sake and fresh fish, go to Ippo in Ebisu or Azabu Juban (their list is written in English and Japanese). Aburaya in Roppongi is fantastically old school and has a great sake selection. Shokkan in Shibuya is more upscale with a well-edited sake list and contemporary izakaya fare.
Tokyo's bartenders are famous for elevating the art of the classic cocktail to new levels of icy perfection. Experience the unbelievable attention to detail, with precision in every element from the bartenders’ bowties to the rythm of their trademark shakes, at Ginza mainstays like Bar High Five, Star Bar, and Orion. In the domain of these award-winning bartenders, understated old-world elegance and manners are the rule.
A new breed of cocktail connoisseurs are mapping out fresh territory with more experimental approaches. Key among them right now is Gen Yamamoto and his flights of muddled fruit drinks at the bar that bears his name. Fuglen is bringing a twist of Scandinavian novelty to the scene.
At last, locally brewed craft beers are rising to prominence next to the endless drafts of Sapporo and Asahi in Tokyo. Relatively new bars like Devil Craft in Kanda and Goodbeer Faucets in Shibuya require reservations on busy nights for their long rows of taps. Still under the radar but just as good is Watering Hole on a quieter stretch of Meiji Dori in Shinjuku.
Whiskey drinkers will feel right at home in Tokyo. Zoetrope near Shinjuku Station is a wonderful place to cap off an evening with a sip of something old and rare. The bartender is happy to help navigate the hundreds of whiskey bottles lining the wall.