The Best Craft Cocktail Bars in Tokyo

From particular shaking techniques to meticulously carved ice (a trend Japan started long ago) to a vast array of seasonal produce, Tokyo’s modern cocktail scene is steeped in a style all its own. The bars that kicked off Western interest in Japanese technique nearly a decade ago—places like Bar High Five and Ginza Tender—still pledge allegiance to both classic drinks and elaborately garnished originals. In contrast, the emerging new guard bars—like Bar Gen Yamamoto and Fuglen—tend toward minimalism and a serious interest in ingredients that are linked to both place and season. Below is a list of the best of both old and new. —Yukari Sakamoto

[Ed. note: For ease in navigating with locals and taxis, all addresses are included in Japanese at the end of each venue’s description.]

  • 1

    Bar High Five

    After apprenticing with Star Bar’s Hisashi Kishi, Hidetsugu Ueno garnered a following all his own at the small and simple Bar High Five. Here a counter that seats eight plus a few additional tables are available for a handful of lucky guests making this necessary pilgrimage. There is no menu, so tell the suspendered Ueno your preferences (he speaks English) or your favorite cocktail, and let him go to work. While Ueno is known for his signature White Lady, it’s most pleasurable to throw something from the classic canon his way and watch his wheels turn as each component is deconstructed, rejiggered from scratch ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
  • 2

    Bar Hoshi

    This hidden gem is on the 8th floor of the Aoki Tower on the outskirts of Ginza. Moody and primarily candle-lit, Bar Hoshi is popular with after-dinner crowds in search of a nightcap (the pink Sakura Sakura is the bar's signature drink) and a bite from the food menu, which includes basashi (horse sashimi), one of the most famous dishes from owner Hoshi-san’s home region of Aizu-Wakamatsu. (Bar Hoshi, Bar保志: 中央区銀座6-4-7 Aoki Tower 8F)

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • bar food
  • 3

    Bar Gen Yamamoto

    Bar Gen Yamamoto, a tiny ground-floor space tucked in the shadows of Tokyo’s glitzy Roppongi district, has quickly become one of the city’s most buzzed-about new craft cocktail bars. But forget what you know about the cocktail bar. There are no suspenders and mustaches, no theatrics, no indie rock or 1920s jazz—no music whatsoever. The bar, which is carved out of a 500-year-old Mizunara (Mongolian oak) tree, seats only eight and is manned by one bartender, Yamamoto, whose hyper-seasonal, almost monastic approach to drinks is illuminating a new path for Tokyo bartending. (Bar Gen Yamamoto: 港区麻布十番1-6-4アニバーサリービル1F)

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
  • 4

    Bar Kamiya

    Unlike many of Tokyo's newfangled cocktail bars—often hidden and dark—Kamiya has very few aesthetic charms. But guests don't come here for the looks or for fancy drinks. They come because it's a Tokyo institution and has been around decades longer than any of Ginza's stoic drinking establishments. More a saloon-cum-dining hall than a bar, Kamiya opened in 1880 and is usually bursting with regulars crowded around formica tables drinking the house potion, Denki Bran. A weird, boozy mix of brandy, gin and vermouth, it's often shot with a cheap beer back and is about as formal as the cocktail experience gets here. (Bar ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • bar food
    • cheap beer
  • 5

    Bar Trench

    Tucked into an alleyway, this little Ebisu bar is run by bartender Rogerio Vaz, who is half-Japanese and half-Brazilian with a love for all things absinthe. An equally odd amalgam of influences, the menu is built on obscure classics as well as originals from Trench and influential American bars like San Francisco's Bourbon & Branch and New York's Milk & Honey. The backbar is a veritable library of spirits and bitters with a hefty collection of esoteric bar literature stacked atop the bottles. (Bar Trench: 渋谷区恵比寿西1-5-8 1F)

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • bar food
    • lots of absinthe
  • 6

    Ben Fiddich

    A relative newcomer to the Tokyo bar scene, Ben Fiddich combines the serene spectacle of the city's old guard with the cerebral ingredient-driven nature of newer cocktail bars like Gen Yamamoto. Bartender Hiroyasu Kayama has adopted the polished, suited look of his elders, while taking on the whimsical demeanor of an alchemist. Many of his drinks feature whole spices and herbs that he grinds into powder with a heavy mortar and pestle, as well as syrups, bitters and even liqueurs (ask about the housemade Campari and Chartreuse) made in-house. (Ben Fiddich: 新宿区西新宿1-13-7 大和家ビル 9F)

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
  • 7

    Fuglen Tokyo

    A Norwegian import whose streamlined Scandinavian appearance belies a complex identity, Fuglen is an odd little oasis on a quiet corner of Shibuya. By day, the space (whose twin resides in Oslo) is a sunny coffee shop serving up third wave-style coffee that's roasted in Norway and served by AeroPress in Tokyo. At night, partner Halvor Digernes, a well-known bartender from Oslo, devises the cocktails, which are sensible and minimalist seasonal riffs on classics like a Ginger Daiquiri or Black Lime Old-Fashioned. (Fuglen Tokyo: 渋谷区富ケ谷1-16-11 1F)

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • coffee
  • 8

    Ginza Tender

    Unfailingly, the legendary Kazuo Uyeda is always behind Ginza Tender's counter, suited in his signature cream-colored jacket, not a hair out of place. Like many old guard Tokyo bars, Ginza Tender is church-like with its somewhat dated décor and dress code requirements (men must wear ties). Uyeda's drinks range from simple classics to colorful wonders with elaborate garnishes, so don't be shy about asking him to go wild. (Ginza Tender, 銀座 テンダー: 中央区銀座6-5-15銀座能楽堂ビル5F)

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • bar food
  • 9

    Radio Bar

    Radio Bar feels as if it could be from another era when etched glassware was standard, Martinis were the drink of note and jazz crackled from muffled radio speakers. Owned and run by esteemed bartender Koji Ozaki, this lounge is a mix of Japanese stoicism (quiet, elegant bartenders in white tuxedos) and glamorous American cocktails (a perfect Manhattan and kitschy riffs named after American actors) that, oddly enough, play quite nicely together. (Radio Bar: 港区南青山3-10-34)

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • full menu
  • 10

    Star Bar Ginza

    A small, brooding room with pressed tin ceilings and polished wood, Star Bar feels like coming upon a temple or a monastery with its hushed, low-lit atmosphere. Owner Hisashi Kishi is known for his signature Sidecar and his mastery of classic old guard Japanese technique (he, like bartender Kazuo Uyeda of Ginza Tender, has his own methods of shaking). As a director for the National Bartenders Association, Kishi takes fine details very seriously and has trained many Tokyo bartenders who have gone on to open their own pedigreed bars. (Star Bar Ginza: 中央区銀座1-5-13三弘社ビルB1)

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    KNOWN FOR

    • craft cocktails
    • bar food

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