Bar La Hulotte

Love Tokyo Awards 2017: Best Bar shortlist

The Best Bar category nominees for this year's Love Tokyo Awards range from cocktail bars to classic neighbourhood watering holes

By Time Out Tokyo Editors
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Tokyo’s drinking scene is one of the best in the world. These ten nominees contending for the Best Bar in the Love Tokyo Awards 2017 make up a diverse list. Whether you're looking for creative cocktails using seasonal ingredients, a fancy bar-hopping adventure or a simple night cap, these bars stand out with their originality, craft, consistency and quality.

The best of 2017

Ishinohana

Bars and pubs Cocktail bars Shibuya

Seasonal cocktails are the speciality at Ishinohana. At a basement location just a minute's walk from Shibuya Station, owner Shinobu Ishigaki wields an array of fresh fruit and vegetables when creating his distinctive drinks: a gin and tonic is enlivened with kumquat, a margherita gets an injection of housemade cassis confiture. There are entire menus devoted just to mojitos and martinis, plus a sizeable list of originals including Ishigaki's award-winning Claudia (martini with pineapple juice and caramel syrup). First-time visitors should find the atmosphere considerably less intimidating than at Ginza's bartending temples.

Star Bar Ginza

Bars and pubs Ginza

Hisashi Kishi broke into the bartending spotlight back in 1996, when he took home the International Bar Association's world championship title at the age of 31. Now also an accomplished author and minor celebrity, he is one of Ginza's most impressive barmen, both in terms of physical appearance and technical skill. Kishi's kingdom is called Star Bar, a quiet basement spot on Namiki-dori, where everything – from the handcrafted ice cubes to the exclusive leather stools – exudes a desire for perfection.

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Bar Oak

Bars and pubs Hotel bars Marunouchi

Hotel bars usually aren't very inspiring places, especially if you're not staying at the establishment in question. But the Tokyo Station Hotel's boozer sure isn't like most hotel bars: It is manned by Hisashi Sugimoto, who's been with the hotel since 1958. 'The Master' mixes up his signature Tokyo Station cocktails from 5pm every day – best be there on time for the chance to grab a counter seat and watch Sugimoto work his magic up close.

Bar la Hulotte

Bars and pubs Moto-Azabu

A trifecta of rough stone, warm wood and faint light welcomes the thirsty to Hulotte – 'owl' in French – an Azabu watering hole that regularly features on top bars lists praising its unique atmosphere. But this is no trendy date spot – far from it. It's much better suited to lone imbibers, who are prepared to make the hike from Azabu-Juban Station for the chance to sit quietly, sample a fine cigar and sip on a cocktail mixed up by Hulotte's master bartender, a veteran of Aoyama's extraordinary Radio. There is a seat for two at the very end of the room, but you'd probably have to come here at least a dozen times before they let you use it...

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Bar Orchard Ginza

Bars and pubs Cocktail bars Ginza

Fresh, seasonal fruits form the basis for the cocktails at this classy bar near Ginza Station. Always innovating, the bartenders here are what you'd call open-minded traditionalists, drawing on a strictly limited array of mixology approaches to give their concoctions a little extra fizz. Look out for smoke rising from behind the bar, as they experiment with liquid nitrogen to create wild-looking but perfectly balanced 'frozen' cocktails. Their antics resemble an old-school magic show: not too flashy, a little mysterious, and always ending in a way that satisfies the viewer.

Oriental Lounge

Restaurants Nihonbashi

Located on the 38th floor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel is this comfy lounge that boasts stunning city views. Head over with some friends and enjoy freshly brewed coffee, just-pressed fruit juice, cocktails or afternoon tea, or go for something a little stronger. Continental and American breakfasts are available between 7am and 11am, while dim lights and candles set the mood for live music in the evenings.

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Tender

Bars and pubs Cocktail bars Ginza

Watch the flamboyant cocktail-creating performance of Mr Hard Shake, or Kazuo Ueda, one of the most famous bartenders in Japan whose award-winning drinks have even found acclaim in the World Bartender Champs. Ueda's bar, found on the fifth floor overlooking Sotobori-dori, is among the more welcoming of Ginza's high-end cocktail temples and is great for quiet conversations over one of the best gimlets you'll ever taste. Note that cocktails cost between ¥1,600 to around ¥3,000 and there's a strict dress code: you'll need to wear at least a button-down shirt. 

Lupin

Bars and pubs Ginza

Established in 1928, this venerable bar was much loved by the literati of the Showa period. Supported from the start by such writers as Kyoka Izumi and Kan Kikuchi, it also became a home for painters, actors and photographers such as Kafu Nagai, Sanjugo Naoki, Yasunari Kawabata, Fumiko Hayashi, Ango Sakaguchi and Osamu Dazai. The menu is modest with a selection of whiskies, bourbons and cocktails, but with its collection of photographs of writers taken by the photographers of the time, it's the perfect place for highbrow literary discussions.

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Drambuie

Bars and pubs Cocktail bars Kita-Senju

Run by Yuki Umemoto, this Kita-Senju bar gets its epithet from a Scottish liqueur that’s made from a whisky blend, honey, herbs and spices. When visiting, your eyes will inevitably be drawn to his handsome 6.5m bubinga counter. And the attention to detail doesn’t end there: the heavy Chesterfield sofas are a particular highlight, while Umemoto’s trove of Baccarat ware and other antique glasses took 20 years to collect. With the appetiser selection extending to Casalba jamón Ibérico de Bellota aged for 48 months and cheese from French master Hervé Mons, you’ll have a hard time finding anything wrong with this gem up north.

Sanlúcar Bar

Bars and pubs Cocktail bars Kagurazaka

Strolling the cobbled streets of Kagurazaka just after lunchtime, you might be surprised to see patrons sneaking through the door into this classy establishment. Yes, they're going for the booze – Sanlúcar starts business at 2pm and is known for its exquisite gimlets. Run by a fellow who honed his craft under Tender's Kazuo Ueda, it gets its name from the southern Spanish city of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, which is where the diplomatic mission of samurai Hasekura Tsunenaga arrived on October 5, 1614.  As an additional tribute to said journey, ordered by the legendary Date Masamune of Sendai, is the seven-seat counter made from teak – a material also traditionally used for ship decks.

More from Love Tokyo Awards 2017

Love Tokyo Awards 2017 winners

Things to do

Time Out Tokyo's annual Love Tokyo Awards is all about celebrating the best of the city. Here are the winners in five main categories: Restaurant, Bar, Café, Shop and Product. On top of that, we have also selected four essential activities of the year and five outstanding personalities who have made a big impact on Tokyo in 2017.

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