Best Sake Shops In Tokyo
by Jordan Mounteer
photo by https://r.gnavi.co.jp/g099339/
Rice wine, or sake, has been a traditional alcoholic drink of Japan for centuries, and to this day many famous breweries and distilleries use the same methods that have been handed down for generations. Chances are you if you go into a liquor store in North America, you’ll only find a mass-market or consumer brand version of sake, of which Gekkeikan is one of the most popular and ubiquitous. But it may come as a surprise to many foreigners to realize that, just as there are hundreds of different whiskeys, wines, or types of beers, so too is sake a culture all of its own. We look at some of the best places in Tokyo where you can try a variety of brands, and learn more about this clear (and potent) alcohol.
Sake Hall Hibiya Bar – Miyuki Building B1F, 5-6-12 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
You don’t have to look far when you go to Ginza to find high class cuisine and izakayas galore, but one of the standout joints in this bustling area of Tokyo is the Sake Hall Hibiya. Just like a craft brewery takes pride in sourcing locally, you’ll be able to find a variety of different sakes here, including seven distinct varieties which come from across Japan. The atmosphere here definitely feels high class, and many of the common and familiar patrons are likely sake connoisseurs themselves, so if you have any grasp of Japanese it’s a great opportunity to ask some questions. Of course, they also serve cocktails as well, but if you want a really traditional experience there are plenty of opportunities to engage the bar masters here, and pick up some tips about how to best enjoy sake.
Kozue – 40th Floor, Park Hyatt, 3-1, Nishishinjuku 7-1-2, Shinjuku, Tokyo
Maybe it’s a trend in Japan, but for some reason some of the best places to get a good stiff drink just happen to be accommodated by the fanciest and most expensive hotels in the world. That’s certainly the case for the very modern Kozue bar, located on the 40th floor of the Park Hyatt. The views here are absolutely resplendent, especially at night, and you can sometimes make out Mount Fuji in the distance. The sake here is plentiful and specially selected, but will set you back upwards of $30 for a 180 ml glass (or close to $300 for some full sized bottles). If you are feeling especially curious, and want to get a more robust feel for different types of sake and their flavors, I would recommend trying one of their flights of three different kinds.
Akaoni 39 – Sangenjaya 2-15-3, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
With a cool name like Akaoni 39, you might be expecting a brightly lit well-publicized piece of acreage in the center of downtown, but what makes this gem so special is the fact you can easily miss it if you’re not careful. As a result, you usually don’t have to worry about too many crowds, and its selection of native urban Tokyoites is matched only by their selection of sake. There are over a hundred different varieties to try here, so the only real problem you might have is trying to figure out which one to go with first. That said, this is a much cheaper option than some of the others on our list, and in my opinion feels a lot more authentic – although you might get some interesting looks as a gaijin walking in for the first time. The traditional wooden boxes the sake is served in accompany a delicious selection of one-day only snacks (if you come back the next day, chances are the menu will have changed!). Akaoni 39 is also famous for serving daiginjou, which is rice that is only 50% polished – but there are some rare and costly ones lingering on the back shelf, too.
Kurand Sake Market – Matsumoto Building 3F, Dogenzaka 2-9-10, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
This is probably my favorite location, for one specific reason. Unlike traditional bars and izakayas, where you order your drink and it comes to you, here the feel is a bit more casual. There is a fridge and you basically come up, choose your own bottle, and fill your own glass with as much as you’d like. For a mere 3000 yen (about $30), it is all you can drink. The casual atmosphere here is definitely a contrast to the posh bars in lofty hotels or side-street family owned establishments. At the same time, it’s a great rendezvous location if you’re waiting for friends or planning what to do next. You’re allowed to bring your own food here, so essentially it’s like a giant communal sake fridge. Additionally, if you stick around long enough, you’ll be treated to a cheer from patrons as they encourage you to drink some water. The common belief is that you should imbibe one and a half times as much water as sake to avoid hangovers.
Akita Pure Rice Sake Bar – Marunouchi 1-9-1, Tokyo Station, Yaesu North Exit 2F Chiyoda, Tokyo
If you want to go with exclusive, though, look no further than Akita Pure Rice Sake Bar. A bit of a mouthful, but this small establishment has a wide selection of special Akita sakes that you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else. The service is excellent and, again, if you know some Japanese you`ll enjoy this place all the more, especially if you want to ask some questions. Some of the sakes range in color from totally clear to hazy, and you’ll be amazed at the different textures, styles, and drynesses of each. They also have a great menu for food, and some of their grilled meats are cheap and juicy (try the chicken). The one downside? If you can’t remember the name of the sake you drank here, good luck trying to order it anywhere else.
When it comes to sake, it may be easy to forget that there is a whole industry and community built around it, and in many cases these include knowledgeable bar masters who keep their own bars and aren’t always easy to find (if you don’t know your way around Tokyo by heart). But the one thing they all have in common is that for the most part they’re all eager to pass on their experiences and advice, regardless of whether you can speak Japanese or not.
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