Whether it's single-malt scotch or the perfect agave, Tokyo has some very impressive specialty bars with huge selections. Here are a few favorites.
Hazelburn offers an impressive line-up of Scottish whiskies, along with English draft ales and well-prepared Scottish and English pub food. [See FULL REVIEW
(Shinjuku Kabukicho) 5292-3703
The smart drink list offers eleven choices of popular umeshu like Saika and Kakutama, plus a few liqueurs based on anzu (apricot), yuzu and even decopon (the orange-tangerine hybrid). Lots of shochu, a short but sweet selection of nihon-shu, and oodles of cocktails give you more reasons to sit and linger, while dainty servings of chazuke - twelve kinds, as a matter of fact - and other small dishes provide delicious distractions from the hectic world outside. Budget around Y3000 for drinks and a light meal. No English spoken.
Perhaps the best bar in the world for Japanese whiskey, with some 300 varieties available, including some rare bottles that are no longer sold in stores. They also serve craft beers from Osaka's Minoh Brewery, as well as Japanese rum and grappa and some imported liquors. The light food menu includes home-smoked dishes. Often old movies are shown (silently) in the background while you drink.
Nishi-Shinjuku 7-10-14, Gaia Bldg 4, 3F. Open 7pm-4am. Closed Sundays, some Monday.
This very stylish Scandinavian-design lounge features immense Austin Powers-style chairs in which you can plot world domination while you sip on unusual aquavit-based cocktails. They also serve home-made aquavit (Scandinavian schnapps) in eye-opening flavors like coconut-espresso and mango-lime-chili. The small food menu includes Swedish nibbles like roast beets with goat cheese (Y1750); and duck confit with lamb ragout (Y2400).
This stylish basement bar has one of the best selections of US microbrews in Japan. You'll also find some good Japanese craft beers and an impressive selection of bourbon whisky. Nineteen beers are on draft, with many more by the bottle. The food menu is light and casual bar fare, but well above average. Background music is a bouncy mix of hiphop and R&B. (Open from 3pm weekends.)
Jinnan 1-13-10, B1F. Open 5pm-midnight. Closed Mondays.
Despite its tiny size (just seven seats) and hard-to-find location, Los Barbados offers an impressive list of premium rums and a surprisingly diverse food menu, along with an excellent Afropop soundtrack. Despite its tiny size (just seven seats) and hard-to-find location, Los Barbados offers an impressive list of premium rums and a surprisingly diverse food menu, along with an excellent Afropop soundtrack.
The food menu features nicely prepared, down-home dishes from Cameroon and Senegal, Morocco and Lebanon, Portugal and the Caribbean - everything from kofta kebabs and Basque-style omelettes to Senegalese peanut-fish stew with fufu. If you're not in the mood for rum you can choose from inexpensive wines (priced from Y1500/carafe), sherry, port and Basque liqueurs. [Show more] [Show less]
Udagawacho 41-26, Papier Bldg #104. Open 11:45am-1am. Closed Sundays.
If it weren't for the illuminated sign advertising "Fish and Sake" in English, you might have trouble finding this second-story hideaway in Ebisu. The interior is modestly appointed with a few small tables around a long wooden counter. This understated approach to decor reflects the bar's no-frills philosophy. They specialize in two things: fresh fish and sake. If it weren't for the illuminated sign advertising, "Fish and Sake" in English, you might have trouble finding this second-story hideaway in Ebisu. The interior is modestly appointed with a few small tables around a long wooden counter. This understated approach to decor reflects the bar's no-frills philosophy. They specialize in two things: fresh fish and sake.
The fish comes directly from Tsukiji every day. Seasonal specials change frequently, but standards like the fuwa-fuwa satsuma age (Y650), fried fish cakes, and the namero (Y950) - raw fish minced with herbs - are available all year round and come highly recommended. The fluffy and delicate satsuma age release a tiny puff of air as you bite into them. The namero offers a contrast of intense flavors - bright versus briny - in each mouthful.
The sake menu (in Japanese and English) features over fifty varieties and changes with the seasons. Along with big names like Kudoki Jozu and Hiroki are lesser-known producers like Shinkame, and even smaller producers like Mutsuhassen. The friendly but unobtrusive staff can help you make you make a selection. Sake is available in two sizes, 120ml (Y500-) and 180ml (Y750-). If, for some reason, you decide not to have sake, the bar also serves shochu and awamori (about twelve varieties). [Show more] [Show less]
Ebisu 1-22-10, Kamasuya 2F. Open 6pm-1am (LO) daily.
This stand-up bar specializes in one-cup sake from around the country; the selection perhaps isn't as exciting as a regular sake bar, but the atmosphere is convivial and the shop makes a good first stop on an Ebisu tour.
300 single-malt whiskies, a couple of interesting Scottish ales (Dark Island and Black Cuillin, from Orkney and Skye respectively), and an interesting food menu, including haggis, Welsh rarebit and kipper herring. Open shockingly late.
Officially known as "Rhum et cafe Tafia," this bar's emphasis is more on the rum end of the spectrum, with a breathtaking variety (some 300 bottles) that includes limited-edition labels that you won't find in shops.
Nishi-Azabu 2-15-14, West Point Bldg 1F. Open 5pm-4:30am. Closed Sundays.
The sign outside of Elevage reads simply, "Rare wine and spirits," but one look inside and wine lovers will swoon, whiskey connoisseurs will drool. Prices aren't cheap, but Elevage is one of the few bars in Tokyo where you can order wines like Clos des Lambraye Grand Cru and Chateau d'Yquem by the glass. The sign outside of Elevage reads simply, "Rare wine and spirits," but one look inside and wine lovers will swoon, whiskey connoisseurs will drool. Racks stocked with hundreds of bottles of whiskey, brandy, and Calvados flank the entrance, while an army of wine bottles stands proudly behind the glass wall to the right. Hidden away in Nishi-Azabu, this quiet little bar is a great place for aficionados and novices alike to broaden their drinking horizons.
The Wagner-loving Yoshida-san will be more than happy to guide you through the daily-changing list of wines by the glass. It typically features around fifteen wines - reds, whites, sparklers, and dessert wines, as well as a couple of sake selections, ranging in price from Y600 - Y4000.
Park yourself at the bar to learn the proper way to open a wine bottle from Yoshida-san, or relax with your drink at the table by the window. Snack on assorted charcuterie (Y2000) while you thumb through the extensive menu and contemplate your next selection. Prices aren't cheap, but Elevage is one of the few bars in Tokyo where you can order wines like Clos des Lambraye Grand Cru and Chateau d'Yquem by the glass. [Show more] [Show less]
Nishi-Azabu 4-2-13, Hachiman Bldg 2F. Open 7pm-1am. Closed Sundays.
This small but stylish bar specializes in koshu (vintage sake), and they offer several different tasting sets to guide your explorations. The Y1260 set features three different types of koshu, and changes weekly. There's also a set comparing three different mature koshu (Y1890), and a set comparing 5-, 10-, and 32-year-old vintages from the same brewery (Y3150). The food menu is very simple - assorted cheeses and smoked dishes. There's a Y450 cover charge; budget around Y4000.
Hundreds of tequilas, including tasting flights, served in a cave-like basement. Although it turns into a Roppongi-style pickup bar after 8 or 9pm, it's a bit more relaxed earlier in the evening.
Roppongi 7-15-10, Clover Bldg. B1F. Open 6:30pm-2am (4am Fri, Sat). Closed Sundays.
This friendly little bar serves around 100 beers on the regular menu, plus additional seasonal beers that aren't listed, so check the display case before you order. There's also a full food menu.
Roppongi 3-11-10. (on Roppongi-dori south side, at the corner of Gaien-Higashi-dori) Open 6-10:50pm (LO). Closed Sundays and holidays.
Although it looks like an ordinary after-work salaryman hangout, Bulldog offers a nice selection of ten beers on tap, including three "guest taps" for local microbrews. US microbrews are also available (by the bottle). There's a wide assortment of bar snacks to go with your beer.
Ginza 3-1, Ginza INZ #1, 2F. Open 11:30am-2, 5-11:15pm daily.
Sliding open the door of Kuri feels like unearthing a secret treasure. Hidden on the second floor of a drab building in Ginza, this cozy bar seats a scant twelve, yet boasts a menu featuring over 100 varieties of sake. The modern Japanese decor deftly employs noren curtains, dark wood, and soft lights to create an intimate and inviting space. Sake bottles are attractively displayed behind the bar on a tall shelf set into the wall. There's room for six at the bar, with a handful of small tables on the other side of a slatted-wood partition. [See FULL REVIEW
Ginza 6-4-15, Tony Bldg 2F. Open 5pm-2:30am (LO; 3am Fri, midnight Sat). Closed Sundays, 3rd Sat.
This lively after-work pub is a great place to try makkoli, the very drinkable Korean version of milky-white nigori ("cloudy") sake. Eleven different types are served, in unexpected flavors like pear and grape, okoge (toasted rice) and pumpkin, priced from Y380 for an aluminum cupful. For the more adventurous, the menu also offers pomegranate wine and garlic liqueur plus the usual beer and Korean soju.This lively after-work pub is a great place to try makkoli, the very drinkable Korean version of milky-white nigori ("cloudy") sake. Eleven different types are served, in unexpected flavors like pear and grape, okoge (toasted rice) and pumpkin, priced from Y380 for an aluminum cupful. For the more adventurous, the menu also offers pomegranate wine and garlic liqueur plus the usual beer and Korean soju.
Light snacks include seaweed salads and toasted nori sheets and lots of kimchee variations. "Pusan oden" is the Korean version of satsuma-age (fried tofu sheets), grilled on skewers and slathered in a spicy sauce. There's a lot of meat too - several different cuts of yakiniku, expertly grilled over charcoal in the kitchen rather than DIY-style. The casual bar area up front is perfect if you just want to have a quick drink and move on to the next stop. [Show more] [Show less]
Marunouchi 3-3-1, Shin-Tokyo Bldg. B1F. Open 11:30am-2, 5-10pm (LO; Sat, Sun-8:30pm) daily.
The food menu here is billed as "homemade deli" - grilled octopus, yakisoba, hot dogs, prosciutto - with most items priced at Y500. But you're really here for the beer - an impressive selection of Japanese microbrews by the bottle (Y800/Y900), a few microbrews on tap (Y500), and imported beers like Pilsner Urquell and Anchor Steam. There are a few stools but it's mostly stand-up, with small shelves on the side wall and an unusual zigzaggy central table.
Marunouchi 1-9-1, Kurobei Yokocho (B1F). Open 11am-11pm daily.
Besides their entertaining frilly cocktails, Trader Vic's also has a good rum list if you ask.
Kioicho 4-1, Hotel New Otani 4F. Open 11:30am-2:30, 5pm-12:30am (LO) daily.
Excellent Chicago-style deep-dish pizza is served here, and the fifteen taps in the cozy ground-floor bar area dispense a good selection of craft beers from Japan and the US. Excellent Chicago-style deep-dish pizza is served here, and the fifteen taps in the cozy ground-floor bar area dispense a good selection of craft beers from Japan and the US.
Pizzas are on the hefty side, piled high with artfully assembled toppings. The impressive "Devil Works" pizza somehow incorporates mozzarella, provolone, parmesan, tomato sauce, fresh tomatoes, salami, sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, red onions, green pepper, spinach, and black and green olives. Other choices include seafood (with shrimp, squid, scallops and clams); Greek (featuring feta cheese and tzatziki sauce) and BBQ chicken. There are ten kinds of pizza in all, prepared in small and large sizes, priced from Y1000-2800.
Rounding out the menu are assorted salads (Greek, Caesar, and spinach-chicken), tortilla chips with spinach-artichoke dip, and tasty Buffalo chicken wings. If you want a break from US and Japanese microbrews, the drinks menu also features Belgians by the bottle and a few Washington State wines. In addition to the ground-floor standup bar there's table seating on the second and third floors; it's a good idea to call ahead to reserve. [Show more] [Show less]
Nihonbashi Muromachi 4-2-3. Open 5-11:30pm. Closed Sundays.
You'll find regional sake from small brewers around the country, served in convenient one-cup sizes at this popular stand-bar. Tasty snacks are in the Y400-600 range, including yakitori, homemade satsuma-age (fishcakes), and soy-milk gratin. Some outdoor seating. Open to 4:30am Fridays and Saturdays.
This natural-foods buffet restaurant offers an open-bar plan including 100 varieties of umeshu (plum wine) based on shochu, sake and brandy - a great opportunity to explore.There's something self-indulgent and luxurious about an all-you-can-eat buffet, but a natural-foods buffet on the other hand seems positively virtuous - "Eat what you want - it's all good for you." The real fun of a buffet, though, is being able to try lots of different flavors without having to decide what to order, and the spread here offers ample variety.
It's mostly stuff that you'd find in a typical izakaya - more vegetable dishes and salad ingredients than average, but plenty of fish and meat as well. There's excellent fatty pork kakuni, fried chicken and oysters, saikyoyaki-style grilled salmon and lots more fish. There are stacked trays of steamed Chinese dumplings, udon noodles and rice dishes, and lots of desserts like soy-milk pudding and annin-dofu, plus a selection of ice cream.
One particularly attractive feature here is the variety of open-bar options. The cheapest plan (around Y800 extra on top of your meal) includes 100 different kinds of umeshu (plum wine). It's an excellent way to explore the world of umeshu, not just shochu-based but also made from sake and brandy. Other drinks plans offer beer, wine and cocktails.
The basic buffet is Y2800 at dinnertime, and Y1600 at lunch, with cheaper prices for kids. They seem to offer a lot of limited-time special deals also, so it's worth inquiring about them. [Show more] [Show less]
Ueno 1-20-11, Suzunoya Bldg 4F. Open 11am-4, 5-10pm (LO) daily.
This small specialty bar offers the biggest selection of rum in Tokyo, with more than 400 varieties of rum. They also stock 100 kinds of bourbon.
Ushi-tora is a specialty beer bar that attracts Japanese connoisseurs from all over town with its collection of twenty beers on tap, most of them local microbrews. We recommend the Yona Yona Real Ale, one of three traditional cask-conditioned "real ales" that are hand-pumped. Ushi-tora is a specialty beer bar that attracts Japanese connoisseurs from all over town with its collection of twenty beers on tap, most of them local microbrews. We recommend the Yona Yona Real Ale, one of three traditional cask-conditioned "real ales" that are hand-pumped.
The small food menu is good and inexpensive, with tasty beer-friendly dishes like deep-fried octopus, fish and chips, spicy fried chicken and shepherd's pie. The atmosphere is quiet and low-key, and service (in Japanese) is friendly and helpful. Beers rotate frequently, so every visit can be a new experience. [Show more] [Show less]
Kitazawa 2-9-3, Miku Bldg 2F. Open 5pm-2am. Closed 1st and 4th Tuesdays.
Behold the ume El Dorado, where up to 250 kinds of umeshu await you: Bar Kutoma. A tiny realm with room for about twenty, benevolently ruled by a soccer-loving umeshu expert, this late-night Ohashi spot offers tasting flights (umeshu kikisake set) for Y1000. Choose on your own or ask the owner to tailor a set to suit your tastes. Behold the ume El Dorado, where up to 250 kinds of umeshu await you: Bar Kutoma. A tiny realm with room for about twenty, benevolently ruled by a soccer-loving umeshu expert, this late-night Ohashi spot offers tasting flights (umeshu kikisake set) for Y1000. Choose on your own or ask the owner to tailor a set to suit your tastes.
There's not much in the way of food, but it's got to be the only place in town where a serious umeshu afficionado can get in touch with his masculine side by cheering for Arsenal. After the soccer games, DJs keep the vibe going, and frequent live events keep it real. Between Y2000-3000 should get you a few drinks plus otsumami like olives or pickles. A little English spoken. [Show more] [Show less]
Ohashi 2-16-24. Open 8pm-3am (or later). Closed Sundays.
This busy shochu specialist, with room for only 25 (including the outdoor seating that spills out onto the sidewalk), features over 100 varieties, along with Kagoshima style cooking. Nibble on izakaya standards like grilled chicken and buta no kakuni, or more unusual items like chicken sashimi. Budget around Y4000.
This Jiyugaoka whiskey specialist boasts an astounding list (around 800 varieties), with new bottles arriving almost daily. The bar also features a different "guest beer" on tap weekly. Old-fashioned favorites like shepherd's pie and haggis are available in addition to less traditional items like Tuscan sausage and anchovies with celery. Budget around Y8000.
Jiyugaoka 1-26-9, Mikasa Bldg. 5F. Open 6pm-2am. Closed Tuesdays.