Meishu Center
Hamamatsucho: Liquor shop
Meishu Center (Hamamatsucho: Liquor shop)
Meishu Center
Open 11am-9pm. Closed weekends.

Hamamatsucho has always seemed like a pretty down-to-earth part of town, and a visit to the Meishu ("famous sake") Center only confirmed that impression. Situated on a quiet side street near the monorail station, the shop is about as unpretentious as it's possible to be. The front window is pasted solid with hand-drawn signs touting various sake brands, and the utilitarian interior is brightly lit and dominated by two large stand-up counters, where a local crowd drops by for a quick after-work drink.

What sets Meishu Center apart from dozens of other shitamachi liquor shops is the breadth and quality of its sake selection, and the wide selection that's available for tasting at any given time. More than fifty brewers are represented here, many of them small, obscure craft brewers, and most of the 150-odd varieties are of the rather refined junmai-ginjo class. But there's no need to stumble through their menu blindly - just tell them what kind of sake you like best and the staff will take you by the hand and guide you through their selection.

You can start out with preferences as simple as "dry" or "sweet", but the more specific you are the better you'll do. They'll pour you a tasting set of three small cups (just Y500), and leave the bottles there for your perusal. Tell them which of the three you like best and they'll repeat the procedure till you find something you're crazy about. Everything you try is available to take home.

The food menu is disarmingly minimal - you can have the tsukemono (pickles; Y100), the tiny tofu slices (Y200), the sembei crackers (Y50 for two), or the pungent shiokara if you're especially brave. Just help yourself from the fridge, and leave your coins in the dish on the counter. Once a month they host a potluck premium-sake tasting party - they provide the sake, and the customers bring the food! (The price is Y3000, plus one dish for everyone to share; there's a sign-up sheet on their bulletin board.)

The shop is just down the street from Akitaya - the famous and always-crowded-with-salarymen yakitori landmark - and one strategy is to have a few sticks of chicken there before exploring the sake here. If you're facing Akitaya, take the street to the left of the shop, and walk about one minute; the Meishu Center is on the left, with an illuminated sign and often a gaggle of cigarette smokers, since smoking is prohibited inside.

by Robb Satterwhite
Minato-ku, Hamamatsucho 2-3.
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Venue listing from Bento.com2 Star Rating: may appeal to some readers