The yakushu top five
Ebisu’s dimly lit, beautifully decorated Bar Tram specialises in medicinal herbal liqueurs and absinthe and is owned by Takuya Ito, one of Tokyo’s yakushu pioneers. Procuring most of his drinks directly from overseas, he serves up around 70 varieties of absinthe and 30-40 other concoctions. For cold winter nights, we’d recommend the Vertigo cocktail, made with bitter Amaro Averna liqueur and ginger juice. It certainly warms the body and is even supposed to boost your circulation. When pondering your next choice, try asking the bartender for details on the names, histories and flavours of the many bottles lined up behind the bar.
Gatosano, named after the Spanish term for ‘healthy cat’, is a Harajuku bar that’s great for those who find partying hard a bit fatiguing. They cater especially to imbibers who want to ‘live healthily and beautifully from the inside out’, and serve up a range of over 40 shochu-based herbal spirits. Each one is claimed to have a different medicinal property, promising everything from beauty benefits to help with dieting. The stronger, more pungent ones are diluted with ginger ale or other sweeter drinks to make them a bit more palatable. But the one offering here that will really put hair on your chest is the one featuring seahorses – yes, real seahorses – steeped in shochu. Set up by Mr Takada, the owner who also works as an event promoter, Gatosano’s DJ booth occasionally sees visits by top underground spinners.
Finding this spot is no mean feat – you’ll first need to navigate the winding streets of Sangenjaya’s Sankaku Chitai and then enter one of the triangular labyrinth’s most narrow alleys to come upon a small door with a green light on it – but the effort will be worth it. Yakushu Bar Sangenjaya, which celebrated a decade in business in 2016, is a six-seat, counter-only boozer specialising in herbal spirits flavoured with ginger, goji berries, lemongrass, lavender, broiled eel and much more. The drinks variously tout beauty, anti-fatigue and stamina benefits – tell the friendly bartender how you’re feeling and he’ll pick out a mixture to right your wrongs. If you like the experience, consider also checking out their branches in Koenji, Asakusa and further afield: there are now a total of 13 Yakushu Bars in Japan.