Sake is what usually comes to mind when people think of having a tipple in Tokyo, but Japanese whisky, distilled in a style similar to Scotch, has been produced for about 150 years and continues to be vastly popular.
As a favorite of businessmen in purpose-built bars to something of an international trend in the high-end spirits market, the whisky craze doesn’t seem to be dying down anytime soon, either.
While Japanese brands such as Yamasaki are on the menu at most trendy nightclubs and cocktail bars around town, a tradition of small, exclusive watering holes remains. These are some of our favorite spots for the signature sip.
Stepping into this dark wooden lounge inside Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Palace Hotel Tokyo feels like entering a delightful time warp. In an admirable act of cultural preservation, the historic Marunouchi hotel removed the Royal Bar from the original 1961 structure and reopened it in the new building — with the fully restored bar counter, no less — in 2012, making it one of Tokyo’s oldest continuously operating whisky bars.
Stocked with cigars and famous for fine martinis, Royal Bar boasts an impressive collection of Scottish single malts and aged Japanese whiskies, including some of the harder-to-find 18- to 30-year-old varieties.
The Palace Hotel’s signature bar even has its own outstanding whisky label: Palace Original Owner’s Cask Hakushu 2000.
The Bar at The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo
Elegant and spacious, The Bar on the 45th floor of this Four-Star Tokyo hotel is a whisky paradise. Any drink enjoyed here comes with phenomenal city views through the massive floor-to-ceiling windows.
Still, aficionados of the brown spirit should opt for the specialty of the house: the Japanese whisky tasting. Led by an in-house expert, the experience includes an ever-evolving flight of the region’s best offerings. The latest lineup includes Yamazaki single malt, Hakushu 12-year and Hibiki 17-year.
After trying the tipples, partake in a cocktail class led by The Bar’s dapper mixologists. You’ll learn to shake up signature drinks using premium whiskies — an impressive skill to take home with you.
Bar Caol Ila
A cozy little place in Shibuya, this classic Japanese whisky bar features some special selections from Caol Ila, a historic Scottish distillery on the Isle of Islay. Somewhat of a mecca for Scotch lovers in Tokyo, it carries 70 varieties of the distillery’s finest sips and a knowledgeable staff of whisky experts.
Quality is key here, where each glass of whisky (or any other spirit, for that matter) is served with a hand-carved spherical chuck of ice designed to fit snuggly into your glass.
The cocktails at Bar Carol Ila are never less than perfect, and a fantastic array of otsumami (savory snacks) is always on hand to accompany the drinks.
Tokyo Whisky Library
This distinguished bar, hidden near Omotesandō Station, stocks more than 1,000 varieties of fine whiskies from around the globe, including Japanese, Irish, Canadian and even Taiwanese selections.
Exposed brick, crystal chandeliers and comfortably mix-matched seats offer an inviting setting among the towering rows of brown bottles. Fantastic pours such as the signature Whisky Cocktail are lovingly crafted and beautifully presented by noted bartender Michito Kaneko and his team.
Drinking without eating is dull, indeed, so Tokyo Whisky Library offers upscale tidbits such as smoked salmon and wagyu beef to sample along with your sips.