Aug 3, 2021
The Top Bartenders in Tokyo
Who Will be Serving Gold Medal Cocktails in Tokyo?
Our Olympians had had a rough start to the Tokyo Olympics. With the 2020 games cancelled, lockdowns making training impossible or difficult, and international travel restricted, they will have few people to turn to when they’re ready to relax and celebrate their wins. Luckily for them, reciprocity underpins Japanese drinking culture. And not to worry, for these Gods of sports wont destroy their adonis-like bodies, as drinks are often lower in ABV when consumed on special occasions than in the UK.
In Japan, the role of bartender a special place. He has to understand the delicacy of the pouring ritual and the social cohesion that comes with it. Therefore, Japan has become one of the world centres for top class bars, and they mostly centre in the Ginza area of Tokyo. Well placed by the Olympic Stadium for a few Team GB gold-medal-winning celebrations. Let’s take a look and who may well have taken care of our winners.
1. Kazuo Uyeda: Inventor of the Japanese Hard Shake
Kazuo Uyeda is the proprietor of Tokyo's universally distinguished Tender Bar. On the intimate fifth-floor of the Noh Theatre Building, the Tender Bar offers views of the Tokyo skyline.
After serving as a bartender at Kaikan for eight years, Uyeda graduated to Bar l'Osier in Tokyo's famous Shiseido Parlor. It was here that Uyeda developed a cult following for his 'hard shake', a rocking technique devised to roll the ice around the shaker rather than smash it into the walls to maximize aeration and elevate the flavour of his cocktails.
In 1997, Uyeda opened Tender Bar in Tokyo's Ginza district. As owner and head bartender, he mixes up an award-winning menu of classic drinks and Uyeda originals. Devotees travel from around the world to sample offerings from Japan's 'hard shake' master.
In 2010, Kazuo Uyeda's cocktail book, Cocktail Techniques, was translated into English, giving Westerners an inside look at the relatively unknown world of Japanese bartending culture and techniques.
2. Yuichi Hoshi: The Accolade Magnet
Yuichi Hoshi is one of the most successful bartenders of Ginza. In addition to his first cocktail bar, the contemporary but understated Bar Hoshi, he runs five more bars in Ginza and another in Utsunomiya.
Hoshi-San was awarded the top spot at the Nippon Bartenders Association's 1998 nationwide competition, and in 2001 he came in first at the International Bartenders Association's World Cocktail Championship.
3. Shingo Gokan: Worlds Best Bar Operator
Shingo Gokan's namesake bar, The SG Club, was listed at number nine in Asia's 50 Best Bars in 2020 and was awarded Best Bar in Japan on the same list. A multiple bar operator, three of his venues sat on The 2019 World's 50 Best Bars list, and another ranked fourth in Asia's 50 Best Bars. These votes combined make him the most successful bar owner operating in the world today.
While 'SG' are his initials, they also stand for Sip and Guzzle. He divides his bar into sections, a spot for sipping, another for guzzling. This idea of cordoning spaces for customers with different drinking styles and service needs are Gokan's signature. By running more than one bar characteristic under one roof, he can cater to different kinds of guests and give customers the option to traverse the spaces as their night develops without leaving the premises.
3. Hiroyasu Kayama: The Alchemist.
Kayama's bar, BenFiddich, ranked No.56 in the world's top 100 bars and No.17 in Asia's 50 Best Bars, opened in Tokyo's Shinjuku district in 2013.
Kayama's series of 'How To' videos on YouTube show how talented and skilled he is. On average, he attracts between 100k to over 1.2 million views per post.
After working as the head bartender at bar Amber, he opened BenFiddich so he could pursue his passion for traditional elixirs and herbal liquors, using ingredients grown on his family's land in Chichibu, Saitama, to make his own concoctions.
The bar has an impressive whisky selection, but Kayama's apothecary approach to cocktails is the main attraction. There's no menu, and if you're willing, you'll be served an experimental drink from rows of spices and housemade infusions that make up his Wizard's pantry.
4. Rogerio Igarashi Vaz: The Green Fairy
This Brazilian-Japanese bartender has lived in Japan for 23 years, eventually setting up Bar Tram and Bar Trench. Rogerio Igarashi Vaz and his trusty business partner, Takuya Itoh, are experts with traditional absinthe and sugar cube drips but also showcase the 'green fairy' in a range of contemporary cocktails. If wormwood-flavoured spirits are not your thing, there are plenty of other creative cocktails available. Both Tram and Trench menus reflect Western trends: with speakeasy stylings but a lighthearted serving style.
'I think cocktails are just 20 per cent of everything we do,' he says. 'All the rest would be serving or tending the customers.' - Rogerio Igarashi Vaz, Time Out Tokyo
4. Hidetsugu Ueno: The Ice Man
In 2020, The World's 50 Best Bars voted High Five the prestigious Legend of the List award. An honour only attributed to a venue that has achieved legendary status throughout the years.
In a world where trends come and go, High Five has stuck to the core principles of simplicity in decor, a quality, international back bar and prodigiously talented staff that offer bespoke cocktails to each guest. There is no menu here. Staff learn their guests' preferences through a series of questions and offer small tastings to narrow down the creative choices. Then offer up a unique cocktail that may not be repeatable. It's a once in a lifetime experience, and if you become a regular, they will learn your tastes and develop your palate over time.
5. Shuzo Nagumo: The Experimentalist
While most of Japan concentrates on simplifying craft, Nagumo makes an art of maximalism. Using high-tech equipment and luxury ingredients, he blends aromatics, texture and flavour in bold combinations.
A house special at his bar, Mixology Experience Bar in the Roppongi district of Tokyo, the Tom Yum Cooler. It turns the famous spicy-sour Thai soup into a refreshing long cocktail, using his in-house laboratory made tom yum liquor. He is planning on launching a distillery to sell his famous Wasabi Gin.