Tokyo has the most incredible bar scene, from buzzing Izakayas where you can enjoy whisky on draught to underground whisky bars with hundreds of whiskies and only a handful of seats, classic cocktail bars which adhere to revered Japanese bartending rituals and amazingly fun bars, tucked away on the Nth floor of an apartment building.
Tokyo is a city spread out a little like Berlin, in that there is no ‘one’ centre instead an array of self-contained neighbourhoods with everything you need no matter your mood.
To really experience the Tokyo bar scene, I’d approach it neighbourhood by neighbourhood, rather than spend your entire night in a taxi, which can be expensive and frustrating.
Here is a list of some of my favourite Ginza bars, you can easily walk between them, the whole circuit is less than 13 minutes’ walk in total.
My must experience bar in Ginza, Marugin holds a special place in my heart – everyone I’ve taken here – media, bartenders, friends – literally loves it, there’s no real equivalent in the UK or the States.
Marugin is a bustling Izakaya, the Japanese equivalent to a pub and you’ll find the finest yakitori, kara-age (Japanese fried chicken marinated in soy) etc, basically stuff you can eat with your hands .
This is the best place to try a Kaku-hi, a Kakubin highball served on draught in tankards. Kampai! A great choice to start your night and line your stomach. You’ll need to get here pretty early to find a spot at the bar, it is brimming with people every night and it standing room only from 6pm
Bar High Five
Bar High Five is a classic Japanese cocktail bar and a regular in the world’s 50th Best for a reason. This bar, headed up by the legend that is Mr Ueno-san has set the standard for over 10 years.
This is where you’ll find the most consistent and classic cocktails in Japan. There’s no menu but the team are so highly trained you’ll easily discover a new favourite cocktail tailored perfectly to your tastes. There are some strict house rules that must be respected, wait to be seated, no parties of more than four, and only parties of two sit at the bar etc, but this is all quite standard stuff in Japan and part of what makes the experience excellent for everyone.
Bar Orchard Ginza
This bar is pure fun and entertainment provided by the inventive and technical genius of the dynamic duo that is Takuo and Sumire Miyanohara. Fresh seasonal fruits form the basis of the cocktails and the inspiration of the bar name. Select a piece of fruit from the giant fruit bowl on the bar and prepare to be surprised and delighted with the results. Don’t be surprised if you leave with a little rubber ducky.
A gorgeous basement bar with an incredible live wood bar circling a striking column. Little Smith is a stable of the Tokyo scene and much loved by locals. The cocktails here are exquisite and again no menu needed, as the staff are fantastic at interpreting what you like and tailoring a cocktail to your tastes. They also serve some great light bites if you’re getting hungry again about now.
Bar Campbelltoun Loch
This is a smoky, basement bar where the whiskies outnumber the seats by a ratio of 40:1. With only 8 or so seats and 300+ bars, you can barely see the bartender for all the bottles stacked on the bar top. You’ll find some incredible whiskies here, limited editions and special bottlings of Scotch and Japanese whiskies all available by the dram. A good one for the road bar.
NB: The door slides open rather than pulls open, and it can get quite smoky down there
Now you’ve explored Ginza, I’d suggest your next stop is Shinjuku…for an entirely different kind of night…
If you are headed to Tokyo, or Kyoto and need some more recommendations, get in touch.