Tokyo: Bars

Tokyo is known for having some amazing bars and after my trip last year to Singapore where I visited a few of the world’s top bars according to the list of the World’s 50 Best Bars and had a great time and a lot of new experiences, I wanted to try at least one of the bars on the list located in Tokyo.

I decided that since we were staying in Shinjuku the majority of the time we are in Tokyo that I wanted to visit Bar Benfiddich which is #36 out of the World’s Best Bars list and #22 out of Asia’s Best Bars list and then a friend recommended Bar Orchard Ginza (#25 of Asia’s best) but it was unfortunately closed the day we were in Ginza.  Instead we went to The Iron Fairies in Ginza which is know for their fantasy like setting.

BAR BENFIDDICH

Location: Shinjuku, Tokyo

Address: 〒160-0023 Tokyo, Shinjuku, Nishishinjuku, 1 Chome−13−7, 大和家ビル

Visiting Bar Benfiddich was one of my top experiences on this trip.  The bar was dim, calm and intimate.  Finding it is not the easiest as it’s not obviously labeled but look for a basket full of bottles and that’s the elevator you need to take up to the bar.  Once you’ve arrived you’ll see a very small space with around 7-8 seats at the bar and maybe another 2 to 3 small tables.  My friend and I arrived on the early side so there was maybe only 3 to 4 people already there sitting at the bar so we were lucky enough to grab seats at the bar as well.

If you can, you should really sit at the bar so you can watch the master bartender at work.  His actions are very precise and kind of mesmerizing to watch.  The set-up is basically the master bartender, in this case Hiroyasu Kayama, and his apprentices helping him by setting up the necessary liquors, additions, implements, etc.  The set-up by the apprentices is very quick and efficient.  Keep in mind, there is no menu here.  The master bartender will ask you what you’re looking for.  The first time, we said something with whiskey, the second time I said something sour and my friend asked for something with strawberries and the third time I asked for something with vodka and my friend ask for something with sake.  Altogether we had three drinks in maybe 2 hours.

For the first drink, since we both asked for whiskey, he made one that was coffee flavored and another that used fresh melon.  Since I don’t drink coffee, my friend took that cocktail and I had the melon-whiskey cocktail.  It was surprisingly delightful and fresh.  Usually I find whiskey cocktails to taste very much like whiskey and tend to be more smoky flavored or a stirred cocktail.  However, it tasted amazing with the melon and honey.  I never knew whiskey could be used to make such a fruity cocktail.  Also, our neighbor ordered absinthe and apparently they do make absinthe in-house so if that is something you like, you should probably try it.  Our neighbor seemed very pleased with it.

After the first drink, we decided to go in a different direction and my friend ordered a strawberry drink which was very unique as it even involved him melting butter using heated iron(?).  For me, I wanted something a little sour and he asked if I was okay with tequila.  I told him go for it!  I was pretty surprised when he pulled out a bottle of Patron and couldn’t help but wonder if the bill was going to be a lot higher than I thought.  Since there’s no menu, there’s no list of prices so we were going into this blind but figured we would list it under “an experience”.  The cocktail was very good with just enough sourness and freshness.  I’m not sure exactly what went in it but it was cucumber based and had little drops of chocolate on top.

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For the first two drinks, I’d say we were served fairly quickly but around when we got our second drink, the place was really starting to fill up with people so the service definitely started taking longer and it didn’t help that we were also unsure of what to request for our third drink.  Eventually we decided and unfortunately, this was also around the time the jet lag was really hitting us so I only have a vague recollection of my drink.  I asked for something vodka based and I believe it ended up a citrusy-type drink but I was REALLY tired when I was sipping on it and apparently did not take a photo so the memory is foggy.

After our third drink, we were ready to go to sleep so I asked for the bill and was pleasantly surprised.  The drinks ranged from about USD $15-$18.  Considering cocktails in Singapore were all above USD $20, I was expecting about the same in Tokyo especially seeing that they were willing to use more expensive items.

Overall, it was a great experience but one you should only do if you have time.  Obviously three drinks in two hours is quite slow-paced but it’s really about relaxing and enjoying the drinks.  Also, you don’t really feel much of a buzz because of the pace, it really isn’t that type of experience.  It’s all about the unique drinks and the care put into making them.

 

THE IRON FAIRIES

Location: Ginza, Tokyo

Address: 〒104-0061 Tokyo, 中央区Ginza, 5−9−5 チアーズ銀座

The other bar we made it to was The Iron Fairies in Ginza.  This was a different experience from Bar Benfiddich.  While the drinks were interesting, it was really the setting of the bar that was the highlight.

To get to the bar, you’ll go down a dark flight of stairs lit by a neon sign with their name.  Then you’ll open the door to a bar disguised as a fantasy land.  There were butterflies hanging from the ceiling as well as various types of keys and a lot of other fantasy elements.  Be aware though that when we went there was a cover charge of ¥1000 per person.  They do tell you before seating you.

We were seated in armchairs surrounding a small table and provided with menus.  There were quite a few foreigners in the bar and a lot of chatter going on unlike the serene atmosphere in Bar Benfiddich.  I ordered two drinks here, one called For Whom the Spell Tolls and another called Pink Tako.  I believe the first drink was rum based and the second was gin based.  Both were pretty interesting, especially the Pink Tako as it actually had a piece of octopus as garnish!  There was another drink people were ordering that even had cotton candy as garnish.

It was a good space to come and hang out with friends or possibly for a date.  There are some bar snacks you can order as well if you’re hungry but my friend and I were mostly tired since we had just arrived back in Tokyo that morning from Seoul and had a really early wake-up call for our flight.  The drinks were around ¥1200 each and don’t forget the ¥1000 cover charge per person.  So not the most expensive but factoring in the cover charge, it’s probably best if you order a few more things or spend more time there.  I think we were in and out well under an hour.

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