From hole-in-the-wall joints where one ounce pours appear in heavy tumblers of Baccarat crystal to hidden rooms in Gion that won’t let you in unless a current member is with you: Bars in Japan.
Among the most enjoyable category of bar is the luxury hotel setting where live jazz or a great sound system combine with deep, atmospheric style and often shocking views to create a truly cinematic experience.
It makes perfect sense that “Lost in Translation” had some of its best scenes take place in New York Grill on the 52nd Floor of Park Hyatt Tokyo. On Sunday nights, local musicians play standards and their own tunes while guests, Japanese and foreign, luxuriate in what I picture the lunar landscape looking like one day. Other nights, pros take the stage. The megapolis of Tokyo shimmers below, red lights blink on building tops, stretches of highway are seen for miles and miles. It’s heavenly.
High up, too, is the 28th Floor Lounge at Conrad. Only here the view is of the vast Tokyo harbour. There’s a long wall of a gas fireplace where orange flames shoot up, a bandstand, and a huge wall that looks onto the bay leading into the Pacific. A new drink menu of innovative cocktails appeared just last year.
On the 37th Floor of Mandarin Oriental, in chic Nihonbashi, a hidden bar offers views of guests and bartenders. It’s insular, quiet, a bit pricier than other hotel bars mentioned here, but its claim to fame is its all women staff. This isn’t Hooters: It’s a refuge for women travelers who want a drink in a setting without the “benefits.”
Moving away from Tokyo to Kyoto, we find two terrific settings:
Touzan, like Mandarin Oriental, is hidden. This bar, deep inside the Hyatt Regency, is subterranean, and the lighting and vibe are nurturing. The selection of sake is first-rate as is the list of Japanese whiskies. After a day of spiritual renewal touring the city’s ancient temples, pulling up a stool and having a Nikka 12 year old whisky poured over an ice cube the size of a squash ball can provoke thoughts about Japan’s modernity and past.
Finally, there’s The Bar, inside Ritz Carlton, by the Kamo River. More elegant and understated than the others, this is a setting for a glass of rare wine and contemplation. Or a shot of tequila and a few laughs. Either way, it’s a place to unwind in an exclusive atmosphere unparalleled.
After enjoying a drink or two in a hotel bar, you’ll be fortified enough to explore each city’s locals…
Get a copy of Scott Haas’s latest book ‘Back of the House’ here.
What’s your favourite bar in Tokyo? Share your tips in the comment section below…
Share this story