Meticulousness is a virtue. And at Butler, meticulousness is also the soul of any good drink. Housed just shy of Minden Avenue’s rowdier strip of bars, this quiet, 20-seat cocktail den is the first independent venture by Oriental Sake Bar Yu-Zen’s former master mixologist Masayuki Uchida.
As someone who’s shaken and stirred at some of the finest cocktail venues in Ginza, Uchida has taken Japan’s detail-oriented bartending culture as the overriding blueprint for Butler. In one corner of the room he’s set up a bookshelf with years-old issues of Japanese whisky and cocktail magazines for solo drinkers to flip through. The centrepiece, though, is the strategically spot-lit bar where more than 200 different spirits sit proudly with their labels affixed in the same orderly direction. In this arena, Uchida in his pristine white dinner jacket (“the standard uniform for bartenders in Japan,” he explains) measures everything to exact precision, shakes it carefully, tastes a drop on the back of his palm and pours it into a polished Baccarat crystal glass to serve. It’s almost like watching a sacred ritual that’s been practiced and perfected a million times over.
Guests can study the leather-bound drinks list, which opens with an expansive selection of cocktails categorised by their base liqueur. Fruit cocktails here are exceptional, constructed from fresh produce that are sliced and juiced on the spot. The miene liebe ($78), for example, balances real peach with grapefruit juice and undercuts it with a touch of rum. But the real fun comes when customers put their trust in Uchida and his bar partner Nick Tse and have them build one of the off-menu items. The results may be anything from a delicious slushy-like creation of fresh grape, blackberry liqueur and ice capped off with pitted American cherries, to a clean-flavoured shiso mojito crafted from Dover brand’s perilla liqueur.
Aside from slinging perfectly balanced mixed drinks, Uchida also stocks an impressive arsenal of single malts and blended whiskies which he serves over crystal clear orbs of hand-chipped ice. There are Japanese options of course, like the mainstay Hibiki ($100) – a floral tipple that leaves a slight astringency on the back of the tongue – as well as a blended Nikka from the barrel ($75). But the best bottles still come from Scotland. The 16-year-old Lagavulin ($120) goes down smoothly with a thick body punctuated with sweet and woody undertones. Butler is also one of the only places in town that serves 15-year Usquaebach ($120) – a gold-hued blended scotch that opens up with aromas of fresh-cut grass. Our new favourite though is the five-to-six-year-old Smokehead ($80) from Islay, which carries a gorgeous, intensely peaty profile with a soft savoury edge.
Completing the experience here is the small snacks menu designed especially for whisky and wine pairings. Most dishes here have Japanese inflections, including the traditional oiled sardines ($120), rice crackers ($60) and assorted Japanese pickles ($40). But for whisky aficionados, Uchida usually serves up his homemade raisin butter – a huge hunk of yellow fat that’s sweetened with sundried grapes before being slathered on a piece of crisp toast.
Like most Japanese-run bars, there’s a minimum charge ($200 per person) as well as a nominal $30 ‘snack fee’. It’s a small price to pay for those with a true appreciation for carefully crafted cocktails. After all, at Butler, bartending is treated no differently from the highest form of art and we only hope more places in town will take a cue from this brilliant new venue. Dorothy So