1. Gashue
    Photo: Time Out Tokyo
  2. Sakestand Shibuya
    Photo: Time Out Tokyo
  3. うつらうつら
  4. Meishu Centre
    Photo: Time Out Tokyo

Best sake bars in Tokyo

Appreciate a good cup of sake? Here's where you can get your nihonshu fix in the capital

Written by
Jessica Thompson
Time Out Tokyo Editors

Tokyo has a vibrant drinking culture that offers everything from gin and whisky to cocktails and craft beer. However, no visit to Tokyo, or Japan for that matter, is complete without a little bit of nihonshu (Japanese sake).

The national drink of Japan made from rice, sake can be enjoyed hot, cold or a range of different temperatures in between. Better yet, it also pairs beautifully with food. Whether you're a sake novice or an expert drinker, you'll find a comprehensive range of sake from all over the country at these top bars.

RECOMMENDED: A beginners guide to drinking hot sake

  • Bars and pubs
  • Shinsen

Located on a quiet corner in Shibuya, Utsura Utsura has that type of enticing nighttime glow that just beckons you in. Through the wooden door you’ll find a bar counter that seats eight, running along the narrow open kitchen where you can watch the chef and sake sommelier at work. The latter is, uniquely, a hot sake specialist, and watching him warm up the drinks to their precise temperature can be rather hypnotic. There are tables for four at the back of the room, and the vibe is professional but warm.

The concept of this gastrobar is to find the right sake to match the dish you’d like to eat, or vice versa. Sake comes by the glass, starting around ¥500, or 180ml carafes ranging from ¥700 to ¥1,500, with about 40 varieties of regularly changing labels on offer. The elaborate otoshi (quick bites, much like an appetiser) platter is a standout, with around six tiny seasonal dishes like strawberry with tofu and sesame cream, and duck steamed in soy sauce with poached kumquats.

  • Bars and pubs
  • Izakaya
  • Yoyogi-Uehara
  • price 2 of 4

An excellent place to start any expedition into the world of Japanese sake, Yoyogi-Uehara's Sasagin more than merits a special trip. Overseen by an Anglophone sommelier with an immaculately trimmed 'tache, this long-running izakaya comes armed with a well-chosen selection of nihonshu, housed in glass refrigerators just behind the counter. English-language drink menus make life easier for newcomers, and the staff are eager to provide recommendations (which on Time Out's most recent visit included a memorable unpasteurised namazake from Aichi).

The daily food specials are only available in Japanese and may take longer to decipher, but dishes like vinegared mackerel and pear with mullet roe, and watercress and shiso dressed with pureed tofu, amply reward the effort. The menu also stretches to sashimi and tempura, and you won't want to leave without trying the ochazuke (rice with tea and trimmings).

  • Bars and pubs
  • Nihonbashi

Whether you’re looking to buy sake to take home or sit at a sophisticated little bar and drink boutique sake by the glass, Nihonbashi Hasegawa Saketen has you covered. Enter the L-shaped store and on your left you’ll find a long line of glowing refrigerators brimming with sake from across Japan. To your right and around the corner is a suave little bar that seats about six. The bar has that special juxtaposition of the old and the new – just outside is the Fukutoku Shinto shrine, surrounded by the stylish Coredo shopping and dining complex, and with a backdrop of towering Nihonbashi skyscrapers.

Inside Hasegawa Saketen, copper vintage lamp shades decorate the room, and the all-glass exterior makes it feel like an Edo-era liquor store-bar with a Fifth Avenue makeover. The bar serves around 17 varieties of sake by the glass, including traditional as well as many modern and innovative brews, starting at ¥400 per glass. If you're hungry, the snacks on offer range from dishes like deep-fried broad beans, oden, grilled chicken skewers and udon with chilled tomato.

Meishu Centre
  • Bars and pubs
  • Hamamatsucho

If you want to sample a bunch of different sake in one sitting, this is the place to be. Brightly lit and filled on weeknights with a largely salaryman crowd, Meishu Centre is dotted with freestanding tables all set with three small glasses ready for the tasting flight: you browse the walls of sake, then flag down one of the staff to fill your glasses with your selection. The prices start from ¥200 for a glass of sake, and if you get three at a time, you get a ¥100 discount.

The vibe here is relaxed and jovial, with swing jazz playing over the speakers. Regular patrons interact with the staff, openly comparing sake, and if you’re feeling peckish, the fridges are stocked with old-school snacks (think potato salad, vegetable pickles, pickled squid, etc) that pair well with sake. Sake bottles are arranged by prefecture, and the offerings change with the seasons and according to new releases. If you find one you really like, you can also buy a bottle to take home.

  • Bars and pubs
  • Ueno

To the uninitiated, sake can be an intimidating drink to get into, but Gashue in Ueno aims to make sake appreciation easier for beginners and especially tourists. The pub sets itself apart from the many standing sake bars in town by having proper table seating. Plus, the environment is casual and friendly; it has none of the snootiness you’d expect from a sake specialist.

The sake menu carries more than 30 varieties from across Japan and it lists each sake’s provenance, alcohol content, rice polishing ratio and tasting notes. The sake are organised according to their taste profile (aromatic, refreshing, aged or rich) to make it easier for you to choose one that matches your taste. The best part is, the sake menu is also in English. Don’t miss the selection of snacks as they pair well with the drinks.

  • Bars and pubs
  • Shibuya

The entrance may not be that obvious if you're coming from Shibuya Station, but Sakestand is all the better for it. This narrow, standing-only bar hidden away on the second floor on a side street off Dogenzaka is a little gem for those looking to immerse themselves in the wonderful world of sake. They serve a changing lineup of sake from across the country, presented in wine glasses with a small tag attached that states all the info (including the name in English) you need to find it again.

  • Attractions
  • Shinbashi

No matter if you’re just getting started on your sake journey or a discerning expert, there’s always more to learn. The Japan Sake and Shochu Information Center serves up not just an excellent and extensive range of sake and shochu, but also an abundance of information about these traditional Japanese beverages.

Imagine a bar combined with a library – but one where you’re encouraged to drink and chat. The shelves are lined with a cornucopia of sake and shochu information, from books published on the subject matter to pamphlets highlighting the sake of each region. The space itself is airy and modern but homely enough to feel relaxed. The bar serves around 100 varieties of sake and shochu, which change monthly. If you find a bottle you particularly like, grab a bottle to go – you can call it homework...

Drink up in Tokyo

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