You know the cliche: the Japanese bartender with his Brylcreemed hair, talking about how cold or pure his ice is. He’ll hard-shake you a gimlet in 20 minutes and it will be sublime. Ask for something more creative and he’ll switch the Beefeater for Tanqueray.
There’s a truth behind that cliche, of course. Tokyo is a city of technical masters who don’t fix what ain’t broke. But times they are a-slightly changing, and international ideas that once struggled to cross the Pacific are now reaching Tokyo’s bartenders. You’ll still find the Savoy Cocktail Book in almost every bar, but you might also find something by Jim Meehan, David Kaplan or Tony Conigliaro, At least two of the bars in our top 10 offer drinks flavoured with Japanese cypress – a wood more traditionally used to make bath tubs.
A decade ago, a tour of the top 10 Tokyo bars wouldn’t have strayed from the streets of Ginza. That area is still home to the most exclusive establishments, and with around 800 to choose from, it’s still where any sensible cocktail aficionado should begin. But these days there are landmark bars all over the capital. The young generation of bartenders seems more interested in prestige spirits than prestige addresses.
And the best news of all for the visiting bar-hopper: the new wave are much more likely to speak English.