Cocktail Omakase At Bar Gen Yamamoto
Tokyo's Best Hidden Cocktail Gems
Cocktails with a touch of Zen.
Walking down an unassuming alley of Azabu-juban, you would never guess that one of the best bars in Tokyo is hidden on the first floor of a nondescript building there. As soon as you step inside you understand that this is not a place to get drunk: it’s a place to take some time for yourself, listening to the rhythmic beats and sipping colorful cocktails in the most stylish ambience you could wish for.
A Different Type Of Bar
Don’t expect the glitz and pizazz of hotel bars or the loud chatter of Shinjuku’s Golden Gai. Instead, this is a place to ponder each meticulously prepared drink in a serene, clean and uncluttered ambience typical of a traditional Japanese aesthetic. Though a tiny space, the bar is filled with a huge 500-year-old, L-shaped wooden counter that sits only eight. The uneven walls painted off-white are kept bare to offer nothing but peaceful simplicity and a little bit of well-honed Zen.
Gen Yamamoto, in his pristine white jacket, greets you behind the counter and provides his undivided attention. There is not much thought involved in deciding what to order. You have a choice of four or six cocktails, the rest is up to Yamamoto-san and his daily inspiration. You can also request modifications or add-ons in the end.
The Man Behind The Bar
What sets Gen Yamamoto’s cocktails apart? The young mixologist made his name in New York City managing a bar at the high-end Japanese restaurant Brushstroke, where he prepared his concoctions using fresh produce found at farmers’ markets. He remains true to his philosophy in his own bar, too, and highlights locally-sourced fruits and herbs of the season in each drink. Thus, the cocktails are constantly changing (almost every week) with the evolving seasons and availability of ingredients.
Bar Gen Yamamoto is a place to take some time for yourself listening to the rhythmic beats and sipping colorful cocktails in the most stylish ambience you could wish for.
I intently observed Yamamoto-san’s every move as he first chose the appropriate delicately hand-blown glasses, then placed a bottle of featured liquor in front of me and continued on to transform fruit into a base of a cocktail. While the lights in the room are dim, the inner edge of the counter is well illuminated to make sure the spot where the cocktail glasses rest are the center of attention. The presentation is simple and sophisticated, to match the rest of the experience. He didn’t share the fancy names of the drinks, instead he talked about the produce he used because that’s where his inspiration stems from, “always”.
A Memorable Experience
Almost everything I try is memorable: rich rice grappa gets mixed with pureed plum to create a cloudy and fruity concoction that is so vibrantly flavored it leaves me sighing with pleasure after each sip; a simple combination of Spanish gin and ume (plum) juice is frizzy and lively with a pleasant hint of tartness from the Japanese plum; freshly squeezed peach juice paired with sparkling sake is given a different dimension by a touch of wasabi; passion fruit blended with a citrus and delightfully smoky whiskey brings nothing but excitement to my tastebuds; a mixture of sweet potato spirit and Okinawa-grown pineapple presented in the form of shaved ice and topped with diced green bell-pepper exudes freshness and tropical sweetness.
You would think after six cocktails I’d leave the bar wasted, but somehow I felt I hardly consumed any alcohol. And you know what’s the best part about it? Even after finishing your tasting menu you can linger a bit longer and ask Yamamoto-san to improvise and excite your tastebuds with another surprise drink. Sadly, I didn’t have time to do it during this visit. But then, there’s always next time.
Address: 1-6-4 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03 6434 0652
Business Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 3 p.m. – 11 p.m. Closed Mondays, April 30, May 7 and May 21