I have a confession to make. I’ve never been to Daiki Kanetaka’s highly acclaimed D.Bespoke. Despite its rank as 32nd on 2018’s Asia’s 50 Best Bars list, I’ve never felt inclined to visit. Maybe it’s because the speakeasy is hard to locate, or the fact that prices aren’t listed in its cocktail menu, and there’s a minimum spend of $60 if you want to have a drink. It’s intimidating, expensive and not my idea of a fun night out.
I think some part of Daiki understands how inaccessible D.Bespoke is to the average consumer. The affable bartender always has a humble smile on his face – a stark contrast to the strict and severe front you’d expect from a Japanese joint of that calibre. More of his personality shines through at the new RPM, just a stone’s throw away. Here, his vintage vinyl collection housing everything from Japanese jazz singers to American funk and soul artists line the walls. And at the far end of the bar, a turntable spins tunes from massive JBL speakers.
You might catch Daiki from time to time but Iwamitsu Shinji is the head manager, mixologist and maestro at RPM. The Kyushu-born bartender is from Miyazaki Prefecture – a large shochu-producing region in Japan – and is always eager to share his expertise. Unlike sake, which made by fermenting rice, shochu is distilled from rice, barley, sweet potatoes and other starchy ingredients. Try different types of by ordering a tasting flight ($35), which offers a sampler of Ikenotsuyu sweet potato shochu from Kumamoto, Dabada chestnut shochu from Kochi and incredibly smooth Asagiri No Hana rice shochu from Kumamoto. Don’t like it neat? Most of the cocktails on RPM’s menu, from the lighter lemon sour ($23) and dark and stormy ($23) to the more spirit forward negroni ($23) and barrelaged taimatsu ($25), use shochu as its base and go down like a dream.
And if you don’t mind the judgmental stares from the more hardcore barflies, definitely get the Osaka Mix ($24). The slushie of bananas and tropical fruits is fun, whimsical and the complete antithesi of what I had built D.Bespoke up to be – so much so that I might finally need to bite the bullet and pay a visit.