The Best Bars in Tokyo
From traditional Izakayas (Japanese pubs) to modern watering holes, Tokyo’s bar scene makes for a spectacular night on the town. High-end sake tasting bars with regional brands from all over Japan? Check. Whiskey bars that feature Japanese whiskey alongside hundreds of bottles covering every known distillery and vintage, single malts and much more from Scotland, Ireland, and the U.S.? You bet. Bars that focus on seasonal cocktails and logal ingredients? Of course. Brewpubs with the best local and overseas craft beers available? Affirmative. If you’ve got the thirst, Tokyo’s got the drinking spot.
While the craft beer revolution was busy sweeping the US, Japan was getting left behind, content with admittedly tasty but decidedly stodgy national brew brands like Asahi and Kirin. Thanks to strict tax laws prohibiting brewers from producing less than 15,860 gallons a year, these mega-breweries enjoyed a virtual monopoly on suds by effectively locking out small producers until 1994 when the law was revised. Despite this change, the microbrew movement has only recently started to gain traction in Japan, partly due to relatively short shelf lives, limited distribution, and competition from the low-price malt liquor segment that also emerged with the relaxation in tax rules. This surge in popularity can be largely attributed to the sudden abundance of US-style brewpubs in major cities in Japan, which solve many of the aforementioned issues by getting a steady supply of thirsty beer lovers to converge in a single location to consume every last drop of inventory. Which brings us to Devilcraft, one of the first (and best) brewpubs in Tokyo. Owned and operated by 3 American expats, it has two locations in Kanda and Hamamatsucho and offers 20 craft beers on tap from both the US and Japan. In addition to the killer beer, it also offers arguably the best (if not only) Chicago-style deep-dish pizza with fresh ingredients, authentic buffalo wings, and other bar food favorites of a very high standard. Get in early or make a reservation—it’s VERY popular with both Japanese and expats.
1 Chome-1-１ Uchisaiwaichō, Chiyoda-ku, Tōkyō-to 100-8558, Japan
The Old Imperial Bar is an old-school Tokyo bar favored by some of Japan’s political and financial elite, who come for its demure and consistent service. The popular bar snack kaki pi—spicy rice crackers and peanuts—originated here and is still being served. Soak in the nods to Frank Lloyd Wright, who designed the original hotel: the Hopi-inspired carpet design, the terra-cotta grillwork, and the polychrome and gold-leaf fresco on the wall in the back of the room. Classic cocktails reign, such as a gin and tonic made with the Kyoto-distilled gin Ki no Bi, with notes of yuzu, green tea, and ginger.
Japan, 〒160-0023 Tōkyō-to, Shinjuku-ku, Nishishinjuku, 1 Chome−13−７ 大和家ビル 9F
Hiroyasu Kayama is both scientist and bartender at this bar on the ninth floor of an office building. Kayama has a collection of dried herbs, spices, and even bugs on the shelves behind the bar. The best seats are at the counter, where you can watch as Kayama creates from scratch a Campari using cochineal insects. To witness the red color come to life gets your mouth wet for the drink that awaits. The absinthe made with wormwood should also be on your radar. Best to tell Kayama what cocktails you like and let him recommend something for you.
Japan, 〒150-0021 Tokyo, Shibuya, Ebisunishi, 1 Chome−5−８ ＤＩＳビル １０２
And there’s the cocktails. Utterly unique (e.g., the South Americano, made of Gran Classico, Antica Formula and aged Cachaça) and based on recipes of a bygone era, they are the centerpiece of this teatro de alcohol and are blended using small-batch craft spirits such as Monkey 47 gin and a plethora of handmade bitters. But the real magic comes from the sage barkeeps (which is sort of like calling Einstein a mere “scientist”), whose encyclopedic knowledge of alcohol will keep your ears as entertained as your mouth and mind. But the Bar Trench experience goes way beyond the cocktails. There’s also the chocolate-covered anise and coriander seed bar snacks, antique pewter absinthe spoons, a fountain used to serve several varieties of distilled wormwood, and the well-coiffed staffers. Bar Trench is a treat for the taste buds as well as the eyes.