City Guide to Tokyo

Ignore the two wooden decoy doors and choose the almost imperceptible black door. Tap the secret code (it’s 0715*) into the security panel, and the door will spring open. Inside, it’s a throwback to the 1920s stylistically, though nobody back then was drinking wasabi-flavoured gin and tonic. 

There are no fewer than four styles of blue cheese martini. And if you order a terroir cocktail, it will come with an air bag filled with the scent of soil. 

Gimmicks? Yes. But they’re bloody good 

Gen Yamamoto, 1-6-4 Azabu Juban, Minato-ku

Bartender Gen Yamamoto upends everything you thought you knew about mixing drinks.

He never shakes a cocktail, or stirs with ice. He doesn’t believe his drinks need to be ice-cold or thoroughly blended. And though there is a tiny a la carte menu, the smart customers opt for his tasting flights, where he chooses what you’ll drink. 

Yamamoto serves four or six courses of small but powerfully flavoured cocktails. 

The recipes appear stunningly simple, though in truth there’s plenty of preparation making compotes and reductions to get this intensity of flavour. He likes to use Japanese ingredients. 

Sake or shochu underpins many of his creations, and obscure local citrus fruits make frequent appearances. Yamamoto operates alone in a hushed Japanese-style room dominated by a giant slice of oak that serves as the bar counter. There’s nowhere else remotely like it.  

Bar Dice, B1, 6-9-13 Ginza, Chuo-ku

Bartender Daisuke Fujita was thinking of his visits to Piedmont when he asked a design firm to build him something resembling the drawing room of an old Italian villa. 

The walls are clad in stone, leather armchairs sit beside a mock fireplace, and a huge iron oven has been repurposed as a liquor shelf. 

The counter is a 400-year-old slice of poplar imported from Bordeaux. With baroque music on the stereo, it’s hard to imagine you’re in a city-centre basement.

Fujita took those trips to Piedmont to indulge his love of grappa. He’s amassed around 100 bottles of the stuff, and every single one of them comes from the estate of the late, great Romano Levi. His cocktails are classics with a twist. 

A spring feeling might come with yuzu instead of lemon, for example. And he likes to blend spirits and
liqueurs from different makers and different eras to give familiar drinks an unexpected depth.

Bar Mimitsuka, B2F, 6-6-19 Ginza, Chuo-ku

The decor could be described as minimalist but for the enormous Japanese flag, heavily graffitied with marker pen messages, covering the far wall. 

It’s a souvenir of bartender Fumiyasu Mimitsuka’s appearance at the International Bartenders’ Asssociation world finals in 2012 (he came home with two trophies – best technical and best after-dinner drink) and it attests to both his skill and his popularity. He rose to prominence as head bartender of Little Smith, a much-loved, modern-looking but classic-thinking bar in Ginza. 

After winning the Japanese Bartenders’ Association competition, and dazzling
at the global finals, Mimitsuka opened his eponymous bar in a Ginza basement this year. 

Service begins with a cup of consommé, then on to the cocktails. There’s no menu, but you won’t need one.