Japan don't-misses?

I’m heading to Japan (Mostly Tokyo/Kanazawa/Kyoto & environs) next month. I’m all ears if anyone has leads on things to do or see or drink for a cocktail enthusiast.

From online sources, so far I’ve seen recommendations for

  • Gen Yamamato, Ben Fiddich, and SG Club in Tokyo
  • Kohaku in Kanazawa
  • Nayuta in Osaka

Other bars? Sake shops? Bar gear shops? Tours?

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If you’re not already familiar with Japanese bar culture, you may have to recalibrate your expectations. Taste/aesthetic/priorities are different over there.

You might want to hit Trader Vic’s at the New Otani Hotel. Still intact and drinks made “the old way”. Time capsule. Note limited hours.

Here are some secondhand recommendations (several years old, so…) for Tokyo bars you might want to at least look up: Orchard Bar, Bar Oopa, Iron Fairies (for decor, not drinks), Masq (in a steakhouse), Tender Bar (Kazuo Uyeda’s place), Bar High Five, Christon (Catholic-themed), Tiki Tiki, Kamiya, Bar Doras (a favorite of the recommender), Bar Flamingo, Star Bar, Tafia, Bar Odin, Amber

Another friend recommends Cabin, Tír na nÓg (medieval-themed)

There’s also all the Yokocho Alleys, which are fascinating.

In Kyoto, one bar of interest is Bar Calvador (Hiroyuki Takayama). Cavaldos-centric.

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Back from my trip. Hit fewer places that I’d hoped, but I thought I’d report:

I enjoyed some drinks at Bar High Five in Tokyo, Star Bar and Bee’s Knees in Kyoto. But the seven-drink appointment with Gen Yamamoto well exceeded my very high expectations, an unforgettable highlight of my whole trip.

I also enjoyed touring Fushimi, the sake district of south Kyoto, particularly helpful tastings at a shop called Ginjo Shubo Aburacho, and an imposing flight of 18 local sakes at Fushimi Sake Village.

Packed a couple of bottles of aged Junmai Daiginjo sakes; bought some gorgeous lacquer sake cups; and picked up some sweet potato shochu and plum liqueur at Haneda Airport Duty Free to empty my wallet of yen.

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