While you might think of Japanese sake (rice wine) as the must-try drink when you’re in the land of the rising sun, Japan also has a killer whisky industry that has been lauded by connoisseurs of spirits internationally. Many Japanese whiskies have been decorated with awards, such as the World Whiskies Awards, and people who have seen Lost in Translation will remember the Suntory Whisky commercial that actor Bob Harris (played by Bill Murray) shoots in the film. That iconic line, "For relaxing times, make it Suntory time" shot Japanese whisky into the mainstream, popularizing Tokyo whisky bars.
One of the best ways to familiarize yourself with whisky is by visiting a Japanese whisky distillery and seeing the production process, learning step-by-step how it is made and which techniques are used, before enjoying a whisky tasting. But you can also visit Tokyo whisky bars to taste a variety of Japanese whiskies. Aside from being a major foodie city, Tokyo is also a whisky lover’s paradise. If you’re in search of a unique drinking experience flavored with technique and terroir, craft and culture, here are some of the best Tokyo whisky bars to visit when you're in the city.
Top 5 Tokyo Whisky Bars
1. Nikka Blender's Bar
The first Tokyo whisky bar to stop by is Nikka Blender's Bar in Aoyama. Nikka offers a wide selection of Japanese whiskies, even the 25 and 35-year-old single malt Taketsuru whiskies. With two distilleries, Yoichi in Hokkaido Prefecture and Miyagikyo in Sendai (Miyagi Prefecture), the flavor of Nikka whiskies is dependent on the terroir and the varying distillation styles. You can enjoy a sample of 6 different key malts for about ¥3000 (note that there is also a cover charge of ¥600 per person). In 2018, the Taketsuru 17-Year-Old was named the World's Best Blended Malt by the World Whiskies Awards and in 2019 Nikka appeared on the list yet again, with the Taketsuru 25-Year-Old Pure Malt as the World's Best Blended Malt.
2. Apollo Bar
If you're looking for a hideaway from the incessant buzz of Tokyo, check out Apollo Bar in Ginza. This quiet jazz bar has one of the best collections of Suntory whiskies in the city (including some vintage bottles), of which you should try Suntory's Hibiki 21-Year-Old, named the World's Best Blended Whisky for the 6th year. The bartenders are deft and well-practiced, raising bartending to something like a performance. Apollo Bar is also the perfect Tokyo whisky bar to visit to escape from the concrete jungle outside. Find yourself a corner where you can sit back, relax, and listen to jubilant jazz while sipping Japanese whisky on the rocks or enjoying a classic whisky highball. Apollo is a place for solo drinkers to find solace or for friends to gather.
3. Bar Tsurukame
Bar Tsurukame in Ningyocho is a well-known Tokyo whisky bar with dark wood and leather interiors, channeling The Godfather vibes. They offer a wide selection of whisky drinks and you can find some of the most delicious aged whiskies here, namely the Yamazaki 12, Hibiki 17, and the Taketsuru 21. What’s more, the prices are quite reasonable. Open until 2:00 a.m., with no cover charge and affordable whisky options (and happy hour from 5:00-7:30 p.m), this classy Tokyo whisky bar should be your go-to place for a nightcap.
4. Bar Zoetrope
Another Tokyo whisky bar where you can sip rare Japanese whiskies is Bar Zoetrope in Nishi-Shinjuku. Usually packed with both locals and foreign visitors, it’s a great place to score some whisky, ranging from rare varieties and limited editions (like Mercian Whisky and Venture Whisky) as well as the mainstream names like Suntory and Nikka. Film buffs, in addition to Japanese whisky lovers, will feel right at home. The owner, Atsushi Horigami, is a major cinema fan, so he asked acclaimed art director Takeo Kimura to design the space, and sometimes he even screens films there. Horigami also stands in as the bartender, creating some of the most unique whisky mixes in the city. He can be a bit busy at peak hours but if you’re lucky enough to catch him on a slow day, he’s the perfect person to chat with about whisky, films, and anything under the sun.
5. Brilliant (Main Bar) in Keio Plaza Hotel
Brilliant in Nishi-Shinjuku, is a smoking and whisky bar with comfortable red leather sofas and chairs, where large groups can gather. They have a special “keep a bottle” service so if a guest doesn't finish it, the staff will store the unfinished bottle until the guest's next arrival. It’s the perfect set-up for guests who frequent the bar or have an extended stay in Tokyo. With over 200 high-quality liquors from around the world, Brilliant's whisky selection is, like the other Tokyo whisky bars on this list, quite extensive.