1. Sézanne
    Photo: Four Seasons MarunouchiSézanne
  2. teamLab Planets, Vegan Ramen Uzu Tokyo
    Photo: 'Reversible Rotation - Non-Objective Space' teamLab, 2021, Digital Installation, Sound: Hideaki Takahashi
  3. Dawn Avatar Robot Cafe
    Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa OriHime-D robot carrying drinks
  4. Yuen Bettei Daita
    Photo: Yuen Bettei Daita

17 best new openings in Tokyo in 2021

Despite the pandemic, these restaurants, bars, galleries, cafés and more made 2021 a bit brighter

Written by
Time Out Tokyo Editors
Advertising

The past year hasn’t been easy for anyone, but it’s been especially tough for all the local, independent businesses that make Tokyo one of the best cities in the world. Covid-19 restrictions saw several of our favourite landmarks close (some temporarily, others for good) in 2021. Looking ahead, 2022 will mark the end of Tokyo’s mega nightclub Ageha and the closure of teamLab Borderless.

But it hasn’t been all bad news. While the pandemic rages on, Tokyo has somehow managed to keep nurturing surprising ideas, from a wine-based cocktail bar to coffee tasting flights. As one venue closed, another one opened, so there was always something new around the corner.

We can’t wait to see what 2022 will bring, but before we head into the new year, here are some of the best new openings in Tokyo in 2021.

RECOMMENDED: Tokyo wrapped – how the city came through in 2021

Bars

  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Asakusa

This pint-sized Kuramae venue turns food waste into delicious drinks. TRD has a gin made from cacao husks and another from leftover Budweiser beer. Currently, the distillery offers five gins (plus the occasional limited editions) and plans to release its first whisky in 2022.

More than a mere gimmick, these are high quality spirits, and you can taste them all at the onsite bar and restaurant, Stage, where the cocktails are just as innovative as the spirits themselves. We love the Cocktail from Beer, a fig-flavoured clarified milk punch featuring that beer-based gin. The distillery’s drive for sustainability runs through the whole building – the food and drinks even use herbs grown in TRD's own rooftop garden.

TRD got off to a rough start when it opened on July 6. That was just one week before the beginning of the city’s longest state of emergency – rules stopping all bars and restaurants from serving alcohol were in place until September 30. But once again, the team turned something bad into something good, focussing on non-alcoholic drinks, coffee and food instead.

  • Bars and pubs
  • Ebisu

Tokyo’s seen a growing number of speakeasies pop up this year, one of the latest openings being the A10 record bar in Ebisu. Behind a fake wall of lockers and down some steps leading underground, A10’s lively atmosphere is a sharp contrast to the quiet, almost deserted street above it.

The music depends on who’s in charge of curating the playlist for the night. Some nights, you’ll hear a stream of classic rock ‘n’ roll, while other occasions might call for a mood set with contemporary house. As for drinks, the cocktail menu devised by mixologist Shuzo Nagumo features a selection of old school tipples with a zesty, tropical twist. Think gin & tonic with a kick of sansho pepper or espresso martinis with banana rum and clarified coconut milk.

Advertising
  • Bars and pubs
  • Shibuya

Tokyo’s cocktail scene got a shake-up this year by famed bartender Shingo Gokan’s inspired new venture, Swrl. The concept: wine as cocktails. The venue: a cool, laid-back restaurant and bar inspired by Brooklyn, New York. The drinks: surprisingly fragrant concoctions that capture the spirit of wanderlust in a glass.

The cocktails at Swrl take inspiration from popular holiday destinations such as Koh Samui, London and Athens. Each drink champions a wine – be it sauvignon blanc or zinfandel – and interestingly, the mixes are swirled rather than shaken to preserve each individual components’ delicate taste profile. With the kitchen dishing out updated Latin American classics including tacos and grilled ribs, casual drinks at Swrl can easily turn into a complete night out.

Restaurants and cafés

  • Restaurants

Have you ever watched a robot serve coffee using a French press? It is positively bonkers. But the concept behind Ory Lab’s first permanent café is far more astonishing than its robo-baristas.

Using an intricate system of remotely operated bots, Nihonbashi’s DAWN Avatar Robot Café provides job opportunities for people with disabilities that make it difficult to have conventional occupations. Workers from all over the country (and even outside of Japan) are able to connect to the café’s androids through their home computers and clock in from bed. The OriHime-D robots, as they’re called, are 120cm tall and equipped with a camera, microphone and speaker to allow them to interact with customers and receive orders as they move around a space.

The menu items, which range from roast beef sandwiches to chicken curry, are mouthwatering, but it’s hard to focus on eating when you’re busy watching the futuristic waiters sailing in and out of the kitchen on wheels.

  • Restaurants
  • Sushi
  • Omotesando

Three words: gourmet sushi train. This conveyor belt sushi restaurant is run by The Onodera Group which operates popular sushi restaurants around the world including the Michelin-starred Sushi Ginza Onodera in New York City. The new Omotesando venue is a luxe take on Japan’s ubiquitous kaitensushi joints and serves up premium cuts of fish that you’d typically expect to find in an omakase sushi meal.

Consisting of mainly counter seats and a handful of booths, you can catch all the sushi chefs in action as you order from a touch screen pad complete with photos. Don’t miss the entire selection of tuna which is sourced directly from Tokyo's Toyosu Fish Market, as well as Hokkaido uni (sea urchin roe) and luxurious botan shrimp. The sushi rice here is flavoured with red vinegar to give it a unique taste and darker tint.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • French
  • Kyobashi

Esteemed British chef Daniel Calvert heads up the kitchen at Sézanne inside the Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Marunouchi. Calvert has crafted a dynamic French menu for the elegant space which was designed by architect and interior designer André Fu.

The restaurant only opened in June, but has already earned its first Michelin star, and we can see why. A standout on the menu is the homemade sourdough bread, made with Hokkaido corn that's dried and turned into polenta, then mixed with a yeast developed by Calvert himself. Pastry chef Elwyn Boyles is in charge of the desserts, while an ever-changing selection of wine, sake and champagne is curated by sommelier Nobuhide Otsuka.

  • Restaurants
  • Eating

With its vintage wallpaper, plush green sofas and designer tableware, Tokyo’s new Gucci Osteria is certainly a looker, but the restaurant by the Italian fashion house has more to show for itself than pretty plates. This ornate restaurant on the fourth floor of Gucci’s Namiki flagship store in Ginza is a collaboration with world renowned chef Massimo Bottura, whose Modena restaurant Osteria Francescana boasts three Michelin stars.

The kitchen is headed by executive chef Antonio Iacoviello and while this is the restaurant’s third outpost, the star dishes served here are unique to Tokyo. Together with sous-chef Hayao Watanabe, Iacoviello offers a tasting course of vibrant Italian dishes peppered with a modern, Japan-inspired twist, like panna cotta yuzu with shrimp, Milanese wagyu and even parmigiana ramen. If it’s Bottura’s signature creations you’re after, you’ll be glad to know that the tortellini with Parmigiano Reggiano cream and his famed Emilia Burger can be ordered à la carte.

Advertising
  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • Kiyosumi

This year, Omotesando mainstay Koffee Mameya finally opened a sit-down venue worthy of its cult reputation with the stylish Koffee Mameya Kakeru. You couldn’t ask for a better space – the café is in the heart of Tokyo’s self-proclaimed coffee town, Kiyosumi-Shirakawa, and features a gorgeous wraparound counter with seats where you can watch the baristas in action.

While you can purchase beans and drinks to-go here, it’s worth giving yourself a bit more time to sit down and enjoy the entire coffee experience. You can choose from coffee tasting courses, desserts and even cocktails. Keep tabs on the official Instagram for collaboration events where the shop hosts renowned bartenders and pâtissiers from around Tokyo.

  • Restaurants
  • Eating

Digital art meets food at this innovative ramen shop inside Tokyo’s teamLab Planets. The popular ramen joint opened up shop in Kyoto last year before taking its plant-based bowls of noodles to Tokyo in 2021. You can slurp up your vegan ramen at several of the gallery’s indoor and outdoor installations. Plus, you don’t have to pay the teamLab Planets entry fee to enjoy the restaurant.

The menu here is completely plant-based and features two bowls exclusive to the Tokyo location: a cold vegan flower ramen topped with beautiful edible flowers, and a bowl which uses tea, kelp and shiitake mushrooms for a distinctive broth. For something warm and comforting, try the spicy vegan miso ramen or the vegan soy sauce ramen made with soy sauce from established brewers Inoue Shoten.

Art and culture

  • Things to do
  • City Life

For literature lovers with a penchant for strong coffee and jazz music, the October opening of the Haruki Murakami Library was a dream come true. Officially called The Waseda International House of Literature, the facility is a new feature on the campus of the Japanese novelist’s alma mater Waseda University.

Archived here is an extensive collection of Murakami’s works that the novelist personally donated to the school, including roughly 1,400 copies of his books, along with beloved jazz records and furniture from his jazz café Peter Cat. Between pouring over first edition copies of ‘Norwegian Wood’ or ‘1Q84’, you can also peer into a replica of Murakami’s study on the basement floor to see what an average day looks like for one of Japan’s most famous authors.

  • Art
  • Galleries
  • Harajuku

Tokyo contemporary art gallery Nanzuka Underground – which used to be quite literally underground – moved into its very own dedicated building in Harajuku this year. The gallery houses four floors, two of which are dedicated to the current exhibition, while the top floors house office spaces and open air terraces with glorious views of Harajuku.

Don’t rush straight in, though – outside the gallery, you’ll find Nanzuka Underground's signature Hajime Sorayama-designed logo and a rusty façade painted by artist Tetsuya Nakamura. Exhibitions change every few months, with the gallery currently showcasing new works by Spanish artist Javier Calleja until Sunday December 26.

Advertising
  • Hotels
  • Boutique hotels
  • Nihonbashi

In most conventional hotels, guest rooms are virtually indistinguishable from each other, with plain sheets, drab carpets and pale walls. That isn’t the case at BnA hotels, where local artists are each given free rein to design each room however they see fit, so no two rooms are remotely similar.

At the new BnA Wall in Nihonbashi, 23 artists had 26 rooms to work with and no rules. A magnetic othello board for a wall? You’ve got it. A disco ball above a bed? Why not? BnA Wall isn’t just an artistically stimulating place to spend the night, though. The hotel also serves as a lively hub for Tokyo’s young creatives looking to meet and collaborate with other artists from around the world.

Attractions

  • Things to do

Recently, Shimokitazawa has been getting revamped and upgraded to include some pretty cool new hangout spaces. This summer, Reload Shimokitazawa became the latest addition to Shimokitazawa Railroad Street, the stretch of road that sits on the site of the old Odakyu train lines. The sleek complex is designed by renowned Japanese architect Shin Ohori and houses a handful of new shops, restaurants and bars.

Some must-visit spots include the Ogawa Coffee Laboratory Shimokitazawa, where you can learn how to brew the perfect cup of joe, eyeglass manufacturer Masunaga 1905 which lets you virtually 'try on' new frames, and tea purveyor Shimokita Chaen, known for its in-house roasted green tea and kakigori shaved ice desserts.

  • Sport and fitness
  • Shinanomachi

The Japan National Stadium officially opened in 2019 after a long renovation project headed by renowned architect Kengo Kuma, but it was only when the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games kicked off last summer that the enormous structure really felt finished.

The new construction, which took three years to complete, cost ¥157 billion and spans roughly 192,049sqm. Though it has a capacity of 60,000 people, the stadium is only 47 metres high and doesn’t obstruct the view of surrounding buildings. As you walk the perimeter of the mammoth structure, you’ll notice Kuma’s signature wooden lattice, which he used to create the image of a living tree by sourcing wood from all 47 Japanese prefectures. There are monthly tours for fans of architecture to see the stadium for themselves without having to wait for the stadium’s next major sporting event.

Advertising
  • Things to do
  • City Life

Move over Kyoto – this combined day spa, ryokan and teahouse brought a slice of tradition to an unlikely part of the city this year. Yuen Bettei Daita sits at the edge of the trendy Shimokitazawa neighbourhood, though you wouldn’t know it from inside the hotel.

The indoor and outdoor onsen baths feature alkaline water sourced from the natural springs of Ashinoko Onsen in Hakone. Better yet, you don’t have to stay overnight to enjoy the facilities. There are plenty of affordable daytime packages, so you can have a soak in an onsen followed by freshly brewed tea, a kaiseki lunch, or even a Noh theatre performance.

  • Things to do
  • City Life

This little park in Shibuya became a local gem this year, but has somehow managed to stay under the radar, despite its prime location right beside trendy new bar Swrl. Once just your average green space, Kitaya Park is now a public plaza with freshly planted trees, stepped benches and even a chic two-storey Blue Bottle Coffee outlet with a balcony overlooking the park.

You’ll see food trucks set up here in the afternoons, as well as markets and small festivals over the weekends. But one of our favourite times to visit is on a warm evening with a canned konbini highball in hand and a couple of friends in tow.

More from Time Out Tokyo

Advertising
Recommended
    You may also like
      Advertising