Japanese cuisine has always followed the seasons. Take kaiseki and sushi for instance, the former is a multi-course meal using only seasonal ingredients and the latter features seafood often caught in the early hours of the day.
It is therefore no surprise to experience seasonality with the fruit based cocktails at the old school bars in Ginza, Tokyo. The Japanese take their fruit very seriously. If ever in doubt, check out the Sembikiya Nihonbashi shop in Tokyo. Expect to pay around £160 for a muskmelon, the most pampered melon in the world. It is treated to heaters in the winter and air conditioners in the summer!
Here are four must-visit bars in Ginza:
Bar High Five
Putting aside the best bar outfits ever (braces, neckties and crisp white shirts) and the most impressive back bar wall of spirits, Bar High Five serves up the most creatively tailored cocktails just for you. It is a refuge after a long day of being on your feet and you need someone else to make your decisions. There is no list, but the bartenders will expertly mix a cocktail or suggest a whisky based on your tastes. Ask them for their fresh fruits and if it’s your bag, try a tomato-based cocktail made with fresh tomatoes. The ‘big daddy’ of the bar is Hidetsugu Ueno, he is recognisable by his Elvis haircut. Go early and stay late.
Efflore Ginza5 Bldg. BF, 5-4-15 Ginza
From 17:00 to 01:00; Closed on Sunday
Dark and moody and where Hidetsugu Ueno of Bar High Five got his start. There is slightly less freedom here for tailored cocktails. Pick a spirit and a fruit (they only use fresh fruit, you get the idea by now), and they will make a few suggestions, rather than let you pick most of the elements like at Bar High Five. The ice at Star Bar (and Bar High Five) deserves a special mention, delivered daily, it is slow frozen to reduce bubbles and other imperfections, shapes are individually carved for cocktails. Alongside the attention to ice, they have their own shake, the infinity shake, which is a figure of eight movement that rolls the liquid around the ice, creating fine bubbles to lighten the alcohol. This place is an institution and it expresses it well.
Monday to Saturday; Sunday 17:00-00:00
Mr Hard Shake, aka Kazuo Ueda, is considered the best bartender in Japan and looks like one that would take all your money at the poker table. So fierce is he, still shaking hard all those late nights at seventy-one years old. There is a cocktail list with many classics (best Gimlet), made strong, as it should be. Go to watch his signature move and be moved. There were less tourists at Tender and more authentic as a result.
Nogakudo Bldg. 5F 6-5-15 Ginza
From 17:00 to 01:00 on Monday to Saturday; Closed on Sunday
Bar Ginza Grace
A bar to keep up the sleeve for late night drinking when you have hit all of the other bars above and are waiting for the Tsukiji fish market (soon moving) to open. Here they bring out a fresh fruit tray, try them all. The fruit based cocktails were delicious and went down way too fast. It’s always a promising sign when other bartenders come here for their after work drinks.
5 Chome-10-10 Ginza
From 18:00 – 03.00 on Monday to Saturday; 17:00 – 00:00 on Sunday