Top Ten Tokyo Bars, Coffee shops,
Jazz Clubs, and Restaurants

Tokyo has an overwhelming number of incredible bars, coffee shops, jazz clubs, and restaurants, and narrowing them down to the top ten was a difficult, subjective, and somehow unfair task. But here's my cut. Enjoy these knowing that you can't go wrong with any, and that there are many, many more places in Tokyo like them. For a more complete yet thoroughly offbeat guide to the city, I recommend Rick Kennedy's Little Adventures in Tokyo, which introduced me to Tsuta, included below, and to many other little adventures.

1. Old Imperial Bar. Located on the second floor of the Imperial Hotel in Hibiya, the Old Imperial is past its prime but still has an air of history, gravitas, and discretion. And where else can you get a twenty-one-year-old Bruichladdich?

2. These Library Lounge. Wonderfully intimate, eclectic bar in Nishi-Azabu. Soft lighting, thousands of books lining the walls, a table made from a door. Secret alcoves with chatting, quietly laughing parties. Slowly thins out towards four a.m., after which you feel like These ("pronounced "tay-zay") and Tokyo are a present wrapped exclusively for you.

3. Bo Sono Ni. Modern but classic bar in the basement of the BigMound Building in Nishi-Azabu. A wonderful fireplace; great selection of single malts; quiet laughter and conversation until four a.m.

4. Bar Satoh. It's in Osaka, not Tokyo, but I love Bar Satoh so much that I moved it to Tokyo in A Clean Kill in Tokyo. Proprietor Satoh-san makes four annual pilgrimages to Scotland, and serves nothing but the exclusive whiskeys he brings back with him (his one concession is Guinness stout, on tap). The music is all jazz and the ambience is low-key, but not leaden; exclusive, but not snobbish; whimsical, but with vision and taste. Bar Satoh was my introduction to unusual scotches like Caol Ila, and to jazz greats like Kurt Elling and Monica Borrfors.

5. Heartman. Old-fashioned, high-end bar in Ginza. Bartenders in white shirts and black bow ties. Small, dark, intimate, comforting; on the second floor and overlooking a nameless street. Outstanding selection of single malts.

6. Tsuta. Hidden jewel of a coffeeshop in Minami-Aoyama. Featuring a serene garden, classical music, and reverential preparations by proprietor Koyama-san.

7. Alfie. Cramped, authentic jazz club in the Roppongi entertainment district. Some friends took me there in 1993 to see pianist Junko Onishi, and that's where the character Midori Kawamura was born.

8. Body & Soul. Another wonderful jazz club, this one in Minami-Aoyama. Every seat in the house is good. On my first trip, I was close enough to the stage to shake hands with the drummer. Akiko Grace was playing that night, and I was hooked for life.

9. Las Chicas. Eternally hip restaurant in Aoyama with charmingly slow service, great changing menu, and eclectic foreign and Japanese clientele. Got stuck here in a snowstorm in 1994, and will never forget watching Tokyo go magically white over multiple hot cocoas.

10. T. Y. Harbor Brewery. Spacious restaurant and microbrewery with outdoor seating right on the water in resurgent Shinagawa. The food is great, the atmosphere confident but relaxed, and the vibe among patrons is, "Why go to Nishi-Azabu when T. Y. is right here?"


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