Tokyo’s Best Bars

Of course visiting some of Tokyo’s best bars was of great importance to me whilst I was in Japan, and thankfully, I managed to hit up most of the bars on my list. Here is a round up of my favourites!

Bar High Five, Ginza, Tokyo

One of Tokyos most well known bars, Bar High Five opened in 2008, and has been winning plaudits ever since.

Located in an unassuming basement building in the heart of Ginza, Bar High Five has room for around 8 guests at the bar and probably another 12-15 at small low tables. Bookings are highly recommended, unless like me you choose to visit upon opening (5pm) when it was easy to snag a coveted bar stool.

As they have no menu, I explained that I wanted to start with an aperitif and would be staying for 2 drinks so they could work on progressing the  flavours with each drink. My first bartender was great, and after asking me a series of questions to ascertain the right flavour profile, I was given a cocktail made with Citrus, Fuji Kirin Sanroku whisky & an incredibly interesting Azuki bean liqueur.

I decided I really couldn’t leave without trying their famous Black Negroni, made with Fernet Branca in place of the Campari, served over a perfectly clear, perfectly cut ice.

There is a 2000 yen ($20) cover charge and you should expect to pay the same for drinks. This is definitely not the place to go with groups but is perfect for bar geeks and spirit/cocktail connoisseurs.

Gen Yamamoto, Azabu-Juban

Gen Yamamoto is a bespoke omakase cocktail bar, offering a choice of a flight of 4 or 6 low ABV/smaller pour cocktails. Yamamoto San is very much a one man team, from answering reservation emails, to carefully hand selecting local, seasonal produce for use in his cocktails, as well as ensuring each drink is served in a unique piece of glassware/ceramic. The cocktail tasting menu reflects “shiki”, Japanese seasonality.

The bar (made from a single piece of 500 year old oak) seats just 8 people, so needless to say, reservations are essential. We chose to have the 4 cocktail omakase menu, it was 3pm in the afternoon after all! Our first drink was made with Tenzan Shuzo ‘Shichida’ Hiyaoroshi Junmai Sake and muddled cape gooseberry, and came served in a stemless coupe, over a single cube of ice.

Next we had a cocktail made with grated and pressed Hokkaido apple (the smell when he grated the apple was like nothing else!) with Lone Wolf Scottish Gin which added  interesting notes of pine to the sweet apple.

Our third cocktail was made with a locally produced plum spirit from Akayne & Grapes (my notes don’t go into more detail – oops) with our final drink being made with Bowmore whisky and Daikon, which was served slightly warm.

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It really was quite something to watch Yamamoto san at work and I found the omakase menu a really interesting lesson in simplicity. At 4,700 yen ($47) for 4 drinks in addition to a 1,000 Yen ($10) cover charge, it isn’t cheap, however Gen Yamamoto was one of the most interesting and enjoyable bar experiences I have had.

Code Name Mixology, Akasaka

You can only imagine my joy when I realised one of the cocktail bars on my “Hitlist” was just a short walk from our hotel, and after dragging D, G and Jules there for pre dinner drinks, we returned after dinner with the rest of our gang for more drinks, even fitting in another visit the following day.

The largest of all the top bars we visited, Code Name Mixology seats around 10 at the bar, with several tables in the back room, where their charming bartenders were extremely accommodating of our ever increasing table size.

Gosh, we drank a lot of different drinks between us – I’ll recap just a few here for ease.

The “New World Order” 1,700 Yen ($17) made with Mezcal, Campari, Sesame Oil, Egg White, Orgeat, Charcoal and Cassis Powder. What a drink! I’ve had Mezcal and Campari together before, but never with additions like egg white and orgeat to change the mouth feel so much! I also loved the little pinch of cassis powder at the end which gave a lovely fruity kick to the finished drink.

The “Gaugin” 1,500 yen ($15) was an ode to Fernet; made with Fernet Branca, Fernet Vicenzi, Lazzaroni Fernet Amaro, Pierde Arma Mezcal & Vermouth Del Professore.

Moving away from Amaros, other notable drinks included the “Green Tea Old Fashioned” 1,700 yen ($17) made with Yamzaki Whisky, Matcha, Kuromitsu (a Japanese black honey) and Vanilla & Chocolate Bitters, and the signature “Iced Perigord Coffe” 1,600 yen ($16) made with FOIE GRAS VODKA, Tonka Infused Rum, Vanilla, Herbazu Liqueur & Cream. Honestly, I ordered this for the weird factor but it was great! The Foie Gras was really only noticeable owing to the fatty mouthfeel and a slight hint on the nose – don’t ask me how it works, but it did!

Bar B&F, Shinjuku

I stumbled across B&F quite by mistake, as I was looking for Bar Benfiddich, owned by the same owners and located in the same building, but I enjoyed my cocktails so much that I returned for a second visit based on it’s own merits.

Named B& F after Brandy & Fruit, they specialise, as you might expect, in brandy-based cocktails,  with an impressive selection of brandy’s, spirits  and liqueurs from around the world.

As with bar High Five, there is no menu, and the bartender led me though another series of well thought out questions in order to ascertain what to make for me.

I started with a cocktail made with Ki No Be Kyoto gin, sherry and muddled Hokkaido grapes which was a perfect aperitif and reminded me of how sad I am that we can’t get sherry here in Yangon.

On my next visit I enjoyed a pleasingly spicy cocktail made with more Kirin Fuji-Sanroku whisky, this time with cassis and ginger. It was perfect for the gloomy weather outside, a real winter warmer!

B&F has a couple of small tables and around 8-10 seats at the bar, you are best to visit early to be sure of getting a seat.

Cocktails were around 1,500 Yen ($15) and from memory, I was not charged a cover charge (but I could be mistaken!)

Bar Benfiddich, Shinjuku

The last of the bars I visited, I can totally understand why Bar Benfiddich is so hyped. Another tiny bar, with bar stools for around 8-10 and a couple of small tables for couples, I was greeted with a few quizzical looks but once again, I was carefully questioned on what I wanted and the drinks didn’t disappoint.

My first cocktail was made with Single Malt Yoichi, Citrus, Shiso, and an incredible bitter herb that grows wild in Japan and is often used for medicine and tinctures (of course I’ve forgotten the name!) Each cocktail seems to be made with its own unique equipment, the shiso was crushed in a ridged mortar and pestle to make a paste, and the resulting drink was pleasingly bitter, aromatic and refreshing.

Next came a Spicy Old Fashioned which was made with a curious looking metal wheel on a wooden pole that served to crush the spices in an oval shaped (wooden?) bowl. Another Japanese whisky was used, this time a Single Malt Miyagikyo and it was without a doubt the best Old fashioned I have tried.

Expect to spend around 2,000 yen ($20) a drink (and there is a 2000 yen cover charge)

 

 

Bar Benfiddich 

Yamatoya Bldg. 9F 1-13-7 Nishi-shinjuku, Shinjuku-ward, Tokyo 160-0023

Open Monday – Saturday 6pm-3am

B&F 

2F Yamatoya Bldg, 160-0023 Tokyo, Shinjuku

Open daily 3pm-1am

Gen Yamamoto

Anniversary Building 1F
1-6-4 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0045

Open Tuesday – Saturday 3pm-11pm

Bar High Five 

Efflore Ginza 5 Bldg. BF 5-4-15 Ginza Chuo-ward, 104-0061 Tokyo

Open Monday – Saturday 5pm-1am

Code Name Mixology 

2f, 3-14-3, Minato, 107-0052, Tokyo, Japan

Open Monday – Saturday 6pm-3am (2am on Saturday)

 

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