There is nothing Japanese about the cocktail. Historically speaking, the art of bartending is traditionally an American innovation that evolved because of a prolific bartender by the name of Jerry Thomas; he wrote one of the most comprehensive recipe books on the scene, The Bartender’s Guide.
Yet over the past 20 years, bartenders from Japan have emerged as unlikely superstars of the international cocktail scene. They’ve immersed themselves in the culture, raised the stakes, and mastered tricks like carving ice into diamonds, setting benchmarks for aspiring mixologists.
Many of these talented fellas have found homes abroad, but Japan remains ground zero for brilliant bartending culture. Keyyes takes you to the neon paradise of Shibuya, a district in Tokyo lit up by cutting-edge fashion, streetwear boutiques and world-class watering holes. Here are three bars located within walking distance from Ebisu Station.
Bar Tram — The Dispensary
Yakushu (medicinal liquor), once designed to aid digestion and insomnia, has taken over Tokyo by storm. A cluster of yakushu bars have sprung up, proffering heady and herbal cocktails with mint, fennel and aniseed. As ironic as it sounds, it’s a fix for the health-conscious party-goer. One can get high on alcohol while improving on complexion, sleep and even dodging a hangover.
Bar Tram is one of them. Coffeehouse by day and absinthe bar by night, it is owned by Takuya Ito, one of the pioneers of yakushu. The dimly lit bar seats 18 and serves around 70 kinds of absinthe. Enjoy these the traditional way, with sugar under a water drip, or have it in a cocktail. There are 40 various spirit-forward concoctions to choose from, including the Morning Glory Fizz, their absinthe-spiked version of a whisky sour.
1-7-13 Ebisunishi, Shibuya, Tokyo. Book a table via the Keyyes Membership App
Bar Trench — The Rarified
Two blocks down from Bar Tram is Bar Trench, a small but swanky watering hole that’s a few minutes’ walk from the Ebisu train station. The space takes reference from a vintage European bar, decorated with books and a dark timber facade that overlooks the street. If you’re lucky, there will be the occasional jazz muso. Similar to Tram, the bar stocks rare herbal liqueur, quality absinthe and an impressive selection of bitters. There are also seasonal creations formulated for the cocktail-loving. The menu is sophisticated and authoritative. This is Asia’s number 16 ranked bar, after all.
1-5-8 Ebisunishi, Shibuya, Tokyo. Book a table via the Keyyes Membership App
Bar Triad — The Sophisticate
Hop over to Bar Triad, the youngest sibling in the Tram and Trench family. It’s been operating since 2017, and we love it for its cool, retro train station-inspired decor. The bar’s split between two levels, separating the white spirits and aperitifs from the brown spirits and digestifs. Order a Taketsuru 21 Year Old, neat, if you like your Japanese whisky. Otherwise, give the cocktails a shot; they tend to lean on the experimental side. Prices range from ¥1,100 (S$12) to ¥1,500 (S$18) a pop, which is more than reasonable.
4F, 1-4-1 Ebisu-nishi, Shibuya, Tokyo. Book a table via the Keyyes Membership App