At Tokyo’s Mori Bar, any bartender can pour a whiskey or muddle a Mint Julep. But when you order the Martini, don’t be surprised to see owner Takao Mori emerge from the back to make it.
It is, after all, the bartender’s signature drink. Mori is an original master of Tokyo’s illustrious bartending scene (dry shaking, ice carving—the works) and entering his bar feels like stumbling into his private, grandfatherly den—albeit one located ten floors above the streets of Ginza. Low-slung ceilings and a beige-on-beige color scheme are punctuated by a gleeful collection of baseball paraphernalia (autographed bats, balls and posters) and an ornate corner shrine to a fellow drinker referred to as a “bear claw.”
At 71 years old, Mori is gentle-eyed and delicately mannered, working with an elder statesman’s grace and fluidity. The Mori Martini, as it’s known, owes its legendary status and bone-dry charm to the bartender’s process and unflinching dedication to the Japanese art of the free pour.
As we chat about the World Series, Mori pulls out a crystal mixing glass and chills it down with a few hefty hunks of ice and water. He then strains off the water and leaves the softened cubes to pull double duty. A single drop of orange bitters is then dosed-out from a Japanese crystal-cut dasher, coating the ice before the spirits are poured.
When it comes to gin, Mori is nothing if not ultra-specific about what works and what doesn’t for his Martini. Sipsmith was his longtime go-to, he says, but he now often opts for Boodles, a weighty gin made from British wheat, scoffing at any notion that a “lighter” gin could do.
“It has to be a sturdy, solid gin to work,” says the bar back who’s been brokering our conversation. (Mori speaks almost no English, and my Japanese is, well, poor.) “No Tanqueray in the Martini!”
Mori then free pours with such exacting precision—a little over two ounces of gin, a bar spoon (if that) of Dolin or Routin dry vermouth—that not a single drop is spilled, wasted or otherwise out of place. Fingers braided around the bar spoon in the low-holding, traditional Japanese style, he spins in a seamless, velvety whir for a full, hypnotic 20 seconds. It’s a drink he could make blindfolded.
When I ask him how long he’s been making his Martini, the bar back and Mori exchange a few words and a laugh. “He says to tell you ‘forever,’” he says. “He’s been making his Martini forever.” This, of course, is pretty much true: The man literally wrote the book on the Martini—a now out-of-print title known as Martini-ism—and is considered its greatest progenitor in Japan.
After being strained into a well-chilled, diamond-etched coupe, a single, fat green olive is speared and placed diagonally across the cocktail as a finishing touch, and a second one is presented on a quarter-sized dish beside the drink like an edible sidecar.
As a final flourish, Mori expresses a lemon peel from such great heights that I wonder if any finds its way into the drink. It does, of course: The essence offers a perfect snap of brightness and lemon aroma.
He sets down the drink and quickly hands over a baseball bat from the wall. There are more important things to discuss than cocktail making. “Can you tell me who signed this?” he asks through his bar back. “I’ve had it 10 years, but I’ve never known anything about it except,” he nods in my direction, smiling, “they’re American.”