Originally used to describe the unsanitary act of drinking straight from the bottle, the Japanese word kaku-uchi now refers to sipping booze in the corner of a liquor store – often at a stand bar set up specifically for the purpose. These counter-only establishments, which allow you to sample from any bottle from the parent shop’s often vast selection, aren’t just considerably cheaper than bars: they often also go to great lengths to provide snacks that pair well with the drinks on offer. These are four of our favourite casual in-store boozers – don your comfiest shoes and prepare to linger.
Four fine kaku-uchi joints
A venerable liquor store with nearly 100 years of history, Jollys sits on Meiji-dori and is even more of a standout after last year’s top to toe renovation. Now composed of a shop, a wood-trimmed counter and a basement music studio, it’s a popular spot with backpackers and local office workers alike. All bottles available in the store can be tasted at the bar, which also serves up food including hot dogs and spam musubi rice rolls.
Originally opened in 1933, Deguchiya added a kaku-uchi counter when it was renovated in 2008. Although wine is the speciality here, you’ll also get to choose from a great selection of sake and shochu, craft beers and a small lineup of pub grub. The grape-loving owner focuses on bottles from smaller-scale vineyards and favours organic and natural wines. The bar offers the opportunity to sample wines from ¥400 per glass, alongside slices of ‘the cheese of the day’.
Hiranoya is all about changing with the times: founded in 1907, it operated as a liquor dealer-come-convenience store during the bubble economy years of the late ’80s before eventually turning into a beer stand in 2013. It now stocks an incredible 100 varieties of Belgian beer – an obsession of the owner, who fell in love with lambics and lagers during a working holiday abroad and later worked at a Belgian beer bar in Tokyo. In addition to the Flemish thirst-quenchers you’ll get to choose from around 50 American and Japanese bottled beers and snacks including sausages and pickles.
Opened in 2011 in Monzen-Nakacho, a neighbourhood packed with comfy watering holes, Se-Bon occupies a renovated warehouse that feels like Tokyo’s best kept secret. In summer the floor-to-ceiling shutters are thrown open to let the light in, while in winter they are closed down to create the cosiest of atmospheres. The drink selection starts and ends with sake: Se-Bon’s owner keeps regulars happily on their toes with a rotating lineup of high-quality, hard-to-find bottles from the likes of Jikon and Hanaabi, all priced so that three glasses will set you back less than ¥2,000.