Exactly a week ago, Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2018 awards held in Singapore witnessed the host country winning big with 12 bars in the list. Taking the second spot was Japan with eight bars making it into the list. If you’re taking a trip to Japan anytime soon, then you’ll want to check out these newly crowned best bars in the land of the rising sun.
A vast majority of the bars on this list hail from Tokyo, with the exception of Lamp Bar that is located in the Nara Prefecture. At least now you’ll know that you can slot in a tipple after petting the famous mob of deer in Nara Park.
When visiting these cocktail bars in Japan, it’s worth noting to keep your etiquette in check. As with most public places in Japan, keeping your voice down is essential — after all, nobody likes a loud drunk. Dressing well is a form of good manners, and you’ll find that it is quite normal here. While you don’t need to put on your best suit, a collared shirt is encouraged at the very least.
A visit to each of these bars will prove a different experience. From Gen Yamamoto‘s tiny minimalist bar that feels like an omakase sushi place to fine cocktail craftsmanship at Bar High Five, be prepared to have your mind and palates blown at these best bars in Japan, according to Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2018.
(Featured image: Business Traveller)
Opened and helmed by bartender Hiroyasu Kayama, don’t let the whisky distillery interior of Bar Benfiddich confuse you. The true identity of this bar lies in its herbal, apothecary-like style of cocktails. Kayama is fond of using herbal liquors and traditional root ingredients, some of which are grown on his family’s land in Saitama. There are no menus in this bar, as Kayama regularly experiments with his customers on new concoctions.
Bar Benfiddich, Yamatoya Bldg. 9F, 1-13-7 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, Japan, +81 3-6279-4223.
(Image: Business Traveller)
Bar High Five is not a speakeasy, but looking for it might prove challenging. Located inside a nondescript office building in Ginza, this small room of a bar consistently draws customers thanks to its owner Hidetsugu Ueno, who also makes the drinks. You don’t get a menu — instead, Ueno or his head bartender Kaori Kurakami will ask you several questions to determine your cocktail preference. The longer you stay and chat (and the more you drink), the more you’ll find that the cocktails are better suited to your taste.
Bar High Five, 5 Chome−4−15 Efflore Ginza5 Bldg., Ginza, Chuo,〒104-0061 Tokyo, Japan, +81 3-3571-5815.
(Image: Drinks World)
Helmed by a husband and wife team Takuo and Sumire Miyanohara, Bar Orchard Ginza’s speciality is evident in its name itself. Pick a seasonal fruit from the bar, and they will create a cocktail for you based on that. They are widely experimental, using modern mixology techniques such as liquid nitrogen with traditional bartending approaches.
Bar Orchard Ginza, Sanraku Bldg 7F, 6-5-16 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, Japan, +81 3-3575-0333.
Visit enough bars in Tokyo and you’ll find that most of the best ones are nondescript and tiny, located off the beaten paths. Trench is one such bar, situated off the alleyway just a few minutes’ walk from Ebisu Station. Absinthe is a popular spirit here, so try it out. Otherwise, sit back and let the aristocratic flair of the bartender charm you.
Trench, 1F, 1-5-8 Ebisu-Nishi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan, +81 3-3780-5291.
(Image: Drinks International)
A pocket of a bar that is more reminiscent of a secret omakase joint, you’ll notice that Gen Yamamoto will use more knives than jiggers in his eponymous bar. Yamamoto uses domestically-sourced fruit and vegetables to form the basis of his cocktails. To properly try his range of finesse, order the tasting sets that come in four or six samples — you won’t regret it.
Gen Yamamoto, 1-6-4 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan, +81 3-6434-0652.
The addition of coffee in cocktails are rampant, but teas are not as widely used. That is why a trip to Mixology Salon is a no-brainer, as this bar prepares cocktails that utilise a carefully curated collection of tea leaves from all around the world. If you’re a first-timer and spoilt for choice, go for the Gyokuro Cocktail Course, a tasting flight comprises three different infusions of gyokuro, the finest green tea in Japan.
Mixology Salon, 6 Chome-10-1 Ginza, Chūō, Tokyo 104-0061, Japan, +81 3-6280-6622.
Owner of Bar High Five, Hidetsugu Ueno, cut his teeth at Star Bar Ginza so you know they’re not messing around. At the helm of Star Bar Ginza is Hisashi Kishi, who is also one of the best bartenders in the area. Prepare to be astounded by their “ninja ice”, which is so transparent that you can’t see it in the glass, or “brilliant ice” which sparkles like a diamond. That, and the grandeur interior of the bar will surely make you want to return for more.
Star Bar Ginza, B1F, 1-5-13 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, Japan, +81 3-3535-8005.
Unlike its Tokyo-based counterparts, Lamp Bar is the only one in Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2018 list that is not situated in the capital city. In a small city such as Nara, it’s rare to find a watering hole as prestigious as Lamp Bar. Its interiors take on a vintage vibe — cosy and characterful with steampunk elements. The owner is also the place’s sole bartender, Michito Kaneko. Again, there is no menu, but speak your desired cocktails and Kaneko will mix something up for you.
Lamp Bar, 26 角振町, Nara, Nara Prefecture 〒630-8225, Japan, +81 742-24-2200.
(Image: Visit Nara)