Sake is to Japan what wine is to France; you just can't visit this country without trying some of its signature alcohol. Sake is a variety of wine made from the Japanese staple of rice. Like wine, sake can have a variety of complex flavours, but it is higher in alcohol content and much less tart. The trendy bars of Tokyo are the best place to expand your knowledge of sake. Here are a few of our favourites...
Located just inside the JR Tokyo Station, this trendy bar is considered to be one of the best sake establishments in the city. It serves up the trendiest sake brands, including Juyondai, Tamagata, Dassai and Yamaguchi. As this bar is close to such a packed thoroughfare, there’s no shortage of interesting characters there at any given time. However, the singularly best thing about Hasegawa Saketan is the bartenders. They are friendly, funny and excessively knowledgeable. Hasegawa Saketan gets a lot of foreign visitors who are curious about their national drink, so the bartenders speak English fluently and are always ready to teach those who ask. Visitors who enjoy the sake they taste at Hasegawa Saketa can purchase bottle of it from the shop next door. However, for those who get a thirst really early, this fun little bar opens its doors at 7am. This makes up for the fact that they have to close their doors early at 10pm, shortly before the station itself closes for the night. So if visitors find themselves early for the train at JR Tokyo Station, they can stop in for a quick nip, providing the thought of alcohol so early in the morning doesn't turn their stomachs!
Hasegawa Saketan is a great bar for beginners, but it is an excessively modern and trendy one. For the visitors who want to try sake in a traditional-style bar, Akaoni is the way to go. Akaoni is located in the funky Sangenjaya district of Tokyo and is dripping with old world charm. It serves over 100 different sake pours, as well as some great cuisine.
Kuri is located in the heart of the bar district in Tokyo and just a few minutes from JR Shimbashi Station. This is a trendy sake bar with very affordable prices on even the most desired brands of sake. However, Kuri is not a great place for sake beginners. It is helpful to at least have some knowledge of the drink before heading to this friendly bar. It stocks more than 100 different brands of sake, including a seasonal selection that changes every week. Its selection ranges from fresh-pressed to finely-aged. As the selection is so huge, beginners may find it a bit daunting, but thankfully the staff is friendly and always willing to give new visitors introductory tours. Even if visiting alone, it never feels like you’re drinking alone. As they say, sake is always best with a friend.
Sasahana is a pub located in the Ginza district of Tokyo. It is its blend of the traditional and modern that sets this sake bar apart. Its cedar walls and white wooden countertops create a comfortable and traditional atmosphere, while its open-view stainless steel kitchen over the counter that gives just the right touch of a modern edge. This little bar doesn't have the sake selection of Akaoni or Kuri, but out of the two dozen varieties of sake it does serve, Sasahana prizes quality over quantity. A lot of the bar’s sake is extremely affordable, but it does host a few brands like the super-premium ginjo-shu sake named Kuoro that can be pretty pricey. If you want to do a little splurging, consider ordering one of the limited edition brews that come served in the traditional gourd-shaped tokkuri sake flasks. Not only are the limited edition brews some of the best in the city, but the traditional way they are served is a thrill to Japanese history buffs.
Kozue is located in the hip Shinjuku district of Tokyo and stands out above all the other sake bars within Tokyo, if only in its location. This ultra-modern sake bar is located on the 40th floor of the prestigious Park Hyatt Tokyo. It sports a sleek design and a rich chocolate brown interior laden with comforting wood. However, the inviting interior is often overshadowed by the beautiful views of the surrounding and colourful Shinjuku district. During the day, when the sky is clear, guests can often be treated to beautiful views of Mount Fuji in the distance.
When it comes to sake in Kozue, its 15 different pours are not for those with empty wallets. However, for those who can afford the steep prices and are a little less than fluent in Japanese, this is one of the best sake bars to visit. As the Park Hyatt is an international chain, the employees in the hotel are fluent in English, German and French. So for those with fat wallets and limited knowledge of Japanese, there is no better place to learn about the fineries of a good pour of sake.
Namikibashi Nakamura is the hot sake destination in Tokyo's Shibuya district, located not too far from the JR Shibuya Station. This is a modern bar; its sleek architecture and deep blue tones gives it a contemporary ambiance. However, it isn't the modern atmosphere that attracts sake drinkers to this bar; it is the premium selection of sake on offer at affordable prices.
Many of the premium sakes it serves, like Hiroki or Kotobuki, come from the Fukushima prefecture where owner Teiji Nakamura was born and raised. While this may not be the most formal of establishments, both the sake and the food Namikibashi Nakamura serves up are done so elegantly. It fills up quickly each day, so visitors to Shibuya looking to partake in some of quality sake should arrive early.
Shimomiya is located in Tokyo's more residential district of Nakano, and it shows in the decor of this sake bar. It features soft lighting and high back wooden chairs that make it feel very homely. People go to Shimomiya come for two things – sake and fish. Shimomiya gets all manner of fresh mackerel, tuna and pike from the world's largest fish market of Tsukiji, which is nearby. With the large variety of fresh fish also comes a near astounding variety of sake. Shimomiya hosts around 200 different brands of sake. These range from fresh organic labels to those made by the Taketsuru family that founded Japan's whiskey industry. The helpful bartenders and sommeliers at Shimomiya are always quick to assist visitors with their selection. As most of Shimomiya's clientele are the locals that live in Nakano, the prices reflect that.