Tokyo is one of the most exciting cities on Earth, and has a legendary nightlife.
You can begin your evening at a tachinomi stand bar, drink and dine at a cozy izakaya, enjoy seasonal cocktails at an only-in-Tokyo mixology counter, venture into a hole-in-the-wall rock or hip hop club, sing all-night karaoke à la Bill Murray in Lost in Translation, and dance until morning to the beats of DJs from around the world.
From precision-crafted classic cocktails to fresh fruit concoctions, from well-curated wine bars to the world’s best whisky and sake, Tokyo has a drinking scene to match your style.
Bar TRAM & Bar TRENCH
Bar TRAM along with it’s sister, Bar TRENCH, are one of the few dedicated absinthe and whiskey Bars in the city. Bigger Bar Tram is a dimly lit den of red velvet, aesthete-approved accents and shadowy recesses where modern dandies tinker with authentic slotted sugar spoons and drip fountains. Those that are worried about wormwood-induced hallucinations needn’t fret – the drink’s psychoactive properties are as misguided as Van Gogh’s potato period – but novices can start slowly with green muse-infused cocktails like the Bitter End (Cointreau, lemon, orange and egg white) or keep it sweet with a spiked ice-cream.
Two blocks down and you’ll find little sib Bar Trench. Lined with bottles, books and a second-floor shelf that hosts the occasional jazz muso, the bitsy counter-seater serves up a shorter, seasonally-changing selection of absinthe-imbued tipples ranging from a trad Tuxedo (made with Monkey 47, Maraschino and orange bitters, one of my favorite things to order) to the strangely enticing, yoghurt-based Go Lassi. For the anti-aniseeders there are also spirited classics like the Old Etonian and Tronto, or ask one of the mixmasters to shake you up the current ‘emotional essence’ offering, a sip designed to invoke a particular sentiment through smell. This little nook may be the younger of the two, but she’s a gal after my own heart.
Swing Bldg 2F, 1-7-13 Ebisu-Nishi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Opening Hours: 7pm – 2am
1F, 1-5-8 Ebisu-Nishi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Opening Hours: 7pm – 2am
When the elevator dings open on the tenth floor of a high-rise in drab West Shinjuku, Tokyo, I don’t know quite what to expect. As the doors to the lift shut behind me, I find myself standing on a rickety outdoor staircase—solo—in the pitch black, fumbling for the handle to a heavy, lacquered wooden door. If this were a fairy tale, I think I’d be in big trouble.
Open since summer 2013, Bar Bennfiddich is one of the most unforgettable bars in the world, thanks to absinthe-obsessed owner Hiroyasu Kayama. The intimate bar is lined with spices and looks like a colonial-era tavern, all rustic woods with an apothecary feel.
Kayama goes further than ubiquitous whisky offerings, educating Tokyo-ites on absinthe with his extensive collection as he crafts made-to-order cocktails and spirits from his magical lab of herbs and spices. He distills and steeps in bar-top equipment, inspired by recipes in a dusty, old distilling book he’ll pull from behind the bar to show you.
What to order: Try his house green chartreuse, absinthe or his stunner of a root beer botanical cocktail, served in a copper mug and infused with everything from coriander to sarsaparilla-root powder.
Address: 9F, 1-13-7 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Opening Hours: 6 pm – 3am / Closed on Sundays and holidays
Fuglen Coffee and Bar
About 15 minutes walk from Shibuya Station and Tokyo’s most famous pedestrian scramble, you’ll find a quieter part of Shibuya. Here, just off the main road and down a boutique and bar lined walking path, sits Fuglen, a café and bar that strikes you as tastefully stylish right away.
Just as the daytime staff are trained baristas — and they pull an excellent espresso using their own proprietary roast of beans — the evening crew specialize in mixology with Japanese and Norwegian craft beers selection and a menu of cocktails devised by the champion bartender Halvor Digernes. He makes extensive use of infused spirits and bitters; I highly recommend the daiquiri – simply one of the best.
Day or night, though, the best seats in the house at this time of year are at the outside tables, which take full advantage of the pedestrian side street.
Address: 1-16-11 Tomigaya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Opening Hours: Mon, Tue 8am-10pm; Wed, Thu 8am-1am; Fri 8am-2am; Sat 10am-2am; Sun & hols 10am-1am
Bar Gen Yamamoto
Not far from the rowdy night pots of the Roppongi district, Bar Yamamoto is discreetly tucked away on a quiet side street. It’s a small, bare-white-walled room with just eight bar stools curving around a countertop fashioned from a 500-year-old slab of oak. Behind the bar, stands the owner, Gen Yamamoto, who, with shaved head, black tie, and white jacket blends right into the minimalist surroundings. Mr. Yamamoto serves you four or six seasonal cocktail “omakase” (I recommend you go with the six), with drinks arriving in a variety of delicately cut glasses, etched with leaves and plants, made from his design. One of my memorable courses from my visit was his take on savory cocktails, he utilizes an impressive array of Japanese produce at its peak, thoughtfully matched with each spirit (think wasabi and sencha green tea with All Koji Sake). Reservations recommended given the limited seating.
What to order: the six seasonal drinks “omakase”
Address: 1-6-4 Aza=bu-Juban, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Opening Hours: 3pm – 11pm, closed Mondays
In the trendy Ebisu neighborhood, the entrance to Martha is a battered wooden door illuminated by a sign that simply says “bar,” set in an even less promising cinder-block wall. Inside, the lights were dim and couples were huddled around tiny tables while the gray-haired DJ/owner was busy curating the soundtrack from the thousands of LPs lining the walls. All the music seemed much older than the 18-year-old Yamazaki single malt on offer, if not quite as precious (ABBA, Leonard Cohen and a Japanese Beach Boys cover band were all represented in the collection).
I do want to point out that you DO NOT make request at this bar. The owner is a little eccentric; he’s got his own way of doing things here. I brought a friend once that gets a little rowdy after a couple of drinks, and he got thrown out for being loud. They also don’t allow photograph or video inside the bar (hence, the lack of pictures for this place in this blog post), and gaijin usually gets a list of house rules upon entering.
Address: 1-22-23 Ebisu Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Opening Hours: 7pm – 5am
Rockfish was never supposed to be a nostalgic bar. It opened six years ago as just another Ginza joint, but as word spread about bartender Kazunari Maguchi’s highballs (whisky, soda, twist of lemon), most people stopped ordering anything else. Maguchi estimates that 90 percent of drinks served at Rockfish these days are highballs. His secret: The glass, soda and whisky are all chilled, so there’s no need for ice, and he uses Suntory’s standard Kakubin which, he says, is the Japanese whisky and suits a highball perfectly. If you wish to try one, get there early: Rockfish opens at 3 p.m. and is usually packed by mid-evening. And as for snacks, they only offer peanuts and sardines + crackers. Great, casual, and always a solid lively bar in Ginza.
Address: 2F no. 26 Polestar Building, 7-2-14 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 3pm – midnight, Sat 3pm – 11pm , Sun and Holidays 1pm – 10pm
Located on the 5th floor of the dramatic edifice that is Omotesando’s AO Building, the sleek TWO ROOMS Restaurant and Bar has the wow factor and then some. The main dining room is an impressive space, with an open kitchen, floor-to-ceiling windows to make the most of the views and striking modernist décor that really speaks to a minimalist’s heart. The bar room is smaller in space but equally spectacular, TWO ROOMS also offer one of the best patio deck in the middle of the city. The atmosphere is seductive and the drinks are divine (they make a wonderful kiwi martini). The wine list is vast, the crowd are mostly bankers (usually a hit or miss), and the candle-lit seats on the terrace are coveted by all, mostly couples.
Opening Hours: 11.30am-2am (Sun until 10pm)
A trip to the Golden Gai would be incomplete without having multiple glasses of Shochu, Sake, or Umeshu, right? But out of all the 300 tiny bars tucked away in between the Shinjuku City Office and the Hanazono Shrine, which bar would you choose to go on a bender night? Enter Bar Albatross where the man Anthony Bourdain had drinks when he visited Tokyo. Yes, THE Anthony Bourdain. The bartenders here make a mean spicy plum cocktail, along with some of the best selection of Shochu for everyone. The crowd is genuinely eclectic mix of suits, artists, students, and tourists, usually a hit or miss depends on the day and time.
Address: 1-2-11 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Opening Hours: Sun-Thu 5pm-2am, Fri, Sat 5pm-5am
Bar High Five
Tiny Bar High Five is all about the owner and bartender Hidetsugu Ueno. Though he might be traveling the world training bartenders and industry folk, if you are lucky enough to catch the stylish Ueno (who came from Tokyo’s legendary Star Bar Ginza), you’ll get a first-class lesson in precision and service. He hand-carves ice into diamond-like spheres and perfects classics, whether his signature White Lady or a Black Whisky Negroni, mixing Kirin Japanese whisky with sweet vermouth and Fernet Branca. There is no menu, you are expected to sit down, tell the experts your preferred drink profile, and get ready for your education.
Address: No. 26 Polestar Building, 4th Floor, 7-2-14 Ginza Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Opening Hours: 5pm – 23.30pm
Amid the neon lights of the Ginza district, I stepped into the elevator of an anonymous office building and pressed the third-floor button—the only one without a sign—and ascended to Rage, a 14-seat bar lined with rare aged-whisky. I was the only women and, despite the bar’s name, the other patrons, local businessmen just off work, did not seem particularly consumed with rage (sorry, I couldn’t help the bad pun). I sank into a comfy leather chair and watched the three bartenders—yes, that’s a 3-to-14 ratio of staff-to-patrons—work their craft, mixing up ingredients you don’t often see at a bar, such as green tea, sage and sakura berries.
Address: 7-13-13 Minami-Aoyama, BULLS 3F, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0062
Opening Hours: 18:00 – 24:00