You know what they say: Where there’s smoke … there’s a brand new mixology bar that’s positively on fire. And smoke — sweet pecan, hickory, maple and cherry wood — is one of the first things you’ll notice upon entering 365 Tokyo, the latest issue from Downtown Las Vegas’ edgy (and busy) Future Restaurant Group. Fantastic fumes swirl around the lights, wafting off freshly smoked Old Fashioneds and colliding with the darkly tinted glass that makes up three walls of this jewel-box bar. The mysterious 10-seat venue juts out from Inspire Theater’s second story, seemingly hovering over East Fremont Street. And from across the way, or below, it’s almost impossible to imagine what special sort of alchemy is going on inside the black glass enclosure.
The experience begins at the front door, where Inspire members and their guests check in for reservations to 365 Tokyo (the official name of the bar is actually five Japanese characters that mean 365 Tokyo, and are pronounced San roku go Tokyo). The doorman radios for a host, who beckons you from the top of a staircase inside. Upstairs, he uses his fingerprint — or the member’s, if they like — to unlock the door, which is actually a mirror set into a bookcase. If you didn’t know exactly what you were looking for, you might just walk right by it.
Once inside, the newly arrived are greeted in Japanese with a courtesy bow, a glass of cucumber ice water and a warm, scented towel. Lead barman Seong Ha Lee, or his assistant Jun, present the cocktail menu — in English, Japanese or Korean — with both hands. While it’s tempting to dive right in, it would be best to take a moment to appreciate the fine details of this small space — and there are many — such as the artistic mirror over a collection of antique cocktail shakers that Lee uses, the bounty of vibrant green herbs and citrus garnishes that Lee applies with tongs and the gleaming silver julep cups and copper mule mugs.
Turn over the menu for a rundown of the vinyl jazz albums available for purchase or play. The only other sound you’ll hear than, say, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue is the soft chatter of couples cooing over Lee’s signature Roppongi Hills lychee cocktail or the rat-a-tat-tat of his confident shake from behind the bar.
From here, the next move actually falls in your hands: You could try a Negroni smoked à la minute with cherry wood in a large bell jar and served over a hand-chipped ice sphere. Maybe you’d like a 365 Martini served well in a glass that has been deeply chilled using liquid nitrogen. Or you can just infuse your choice of spirit with a selection of herbs and botanicals. Drinks come with an incredible show, and gratuity is automatically added to the bill (cards only, please), so there’s no unnecessary discussion of money.
Why all the fuss over cocktails here? Well, when 365 Tokyo owner Michael Cornthwaite, who also helms popular Vegas spots Downtown Cocktail Room, Scullery at The Ogden and Inspire Theater’s Wayfarer Bar, was in Japan on his honeymoon, he was awed by the level of service he received at bars. Moreover, he was impressed by the precision, humility and dedication of the Japanese bartenders. When Cornthwaite got back to Nevada, he couldn’t find anywhere to revisit that bar experience, so he vowed to create one where he could live out his own little slice of Tokyo, 365 days a year.
Photo Courtesy of Krystal Ramirez FRG