Japan’s neon-lit capital is a world away from the tranquil glens of rural Scotland, but it’s a top spot for whisky lovers. From tiny basement parlors to fancy cocktail lounges in Shinjuku skyscrapers, bars across the city specialize in Scotch.
The best part of touring the city’s top whisky bars? At the end of the night, you’re never far from a comfortable Tokyo hotel.
Scottish-style drinking dens
Some Tokyo bars don’t just stock Scottish whisky – they recreate Scotland in the Far East. With tartan decor, bagpipe music and open fires, they could belong in Inverness:
Masaki Murasawa has visited all of Scotland’s most famous distilleries, and many more obscure ones. His popular bar in Minato-ku contains hundreds of bottles, including vintage treats like 40-year-old Highland Park. There are stags’ heads on the walls, Scottish football on the TV and even Scottish pub grub like tasty chips ‘n’ cheddar.
Walking into this basement bar in the Roppongi entertainment district is like entering a Scottish medieval castle. Through the turret and along the stone passageway is an inviting, dimly lit chamber where you can sip your favourite Scotch, or rare Japanese gems like Karuizawa 1989.
Bare bricks, used barrels and vintage beer signs create a convincing Scottish pub amid the vast department stores of Ikebukuro. There are always new additions to the impressive whisky stock, and local aficionados love the place for its single cask selections.
Some Tokyo bars reflect their owners’ tastes in unique ways. Regular customers keep coming back not just for the whisky, but for the sheer personality of the place.
Owner Atsushi Horigami combines his two great loves, whisky and film, at this small bar inside a Shinjuku high-rise. Closing the blinds, he screens classic short films on the back wall while pouring hard-to-find single malts and Japanese blends. A dram or two of local Ichiro’s Malt goes surprisingly well with a double bill of Charlie Chaplin movies.
This busy Ginza spot is the place to go for a highball. Modern Tokyoites love that old-fashioned mix of whisky and soda, and head bartender Kazunari Maguchi makes the best in town. Gourmet seafood snacks help bring out the flavour.
Combining old-world mixology and ultra-modern gastronomy, master bartender Hiroyasu Kayama applies science to the art of cocktail making at Bar Benfiddich. He uses home-grown herbs, roots and spices to concoct his distinctive signature blends. If you prefer your whisky neat, order straight from his extensive collection of single malts.
Quiet corners for connoisseurs
Tokyo is a very big city, but it’s also densely packed. Many of its best whisky bars occupy tight spaces inside larger buildings, where you can literally rub shoulders with regulars and visitors alike.
With only nine bar stools and a little standing room, this tiny cellar in the Chiyoda neighbourhood could be Tokyo’s cosiest venue for whisky enthusiasts. Owner Nobuyuki Nakamura is a self-confessed obsessive with a rotating stock of more than 250 bottles. He speaks some English too, so tell him about your tastes and he’ll find you a perfect match.
This super-compact cocktail joint is named after its famous owner and bartender. A welcoming presence behind a Japanese oak bar with only eight seats, Gen Yamamoto serves special tasting sets of custom-designed short drinks. You might find yourself sampling a strange but delicious mix of gin and home-made ginger, or sake with strawberry cream. And of course, he really knows his whisky too.
Bar High Five
Another tiny venue founded by a legend of the Tokyo bar scene, Bar High Five is Hidetsugu Ueno’s home base when he’s not away training staff at the world’s top cocktail lounges. Even when he’s not here, his team can pour you a drink from the house specials. The Black Whisky Negroni comes especially recommended.
High society whisky
In recent years the highball has become fashionable again – you can even buy pre-mixed cans in convenience stores. Sometimes, though, you want a classy vintage cocktail in a place where such pleasures have never gone out of style.
Even if you’re on a budget it’s worth spending time and money at this stylish Ginza basement bar. The staff wear gloves and dinner jackets, the atmosphere is pure Tokyo glamour, and the whisky selection is world-class.
Y & M Kisling
Hidden within a Ginza office tower, this classic, speakeasy-style lounge invites you to sit under low, flattering lighting at the bar, sipping premium Scotch like a 1930s movie star. If you’re lucky, you might even be served by veteran Tokyo cocktail master Mitsugi Yoshida himself.
Whether you’re a novice or an aficionado, you’ll find a dram to suit you at any of these Tokyo bars. So get out there and start sipping.