Japanese Garden at Bar High Five, Ginza
One of the top cocktail bars in the upscale Ginza neighborhood of Tokyo, Bar High Five is a tiny space on the 4th floor of an office building where Hidetsugu Ueno (formerly of Star Bar, another Ginza mainstay) crafts exquisite cocktails. There's no menu, Hidetsugu simply asks (in fluent English) for your tastes and will make you something accordingly. When I arrived, I asked for something that I would only be able to get in Japan and he made me a "Japanese Garden." Made with single-malt Nikka 10-year Yoichi whisky (only available in Japan), Midori Melon Liqueur, Suntory Green Tea Liqueur, and a prototype green tea bitters of Hidetsugu's own creation, the end result was remarkably clean and refreshing, understated, but with a distinct and subtle flavor.
Bourbon & Soda at Bar High Five, Ginza
Before I left for Japan, I had read about one of the food specialties at Bar High Five. Hidetsugu makes a hotdog with a housemade bourbon sauce and serves it with a bourbon and soda. Naturally I asked for this and he whipped up the hotdog in a tiny corner cubby with a toaster oven and stove. The hotdog was excellent, but made even more so by its pairing. Even with such a simple drink as a bourbon and soda, Hidetsugu exhibited the same care and craftsmanship as with more complex cocktails.
Guatemalan Drip at Be A Good Neighbor, Shibuya
In this tiny minimalist coffee kiosk in the back alleys of the Shibuya neighborhood of Tokyo you'll find just as much of the detail oriented approach to your coffee and espressos as you would to high-end cocktails. Each corner of the space is assiduously appointed, from the magazines carefully selected and placed on the counter to the 3rd gen. iPod playing on the now discontinued Apple Hi-Fi. Each cup is individually and fastidiously hand-measured and dripped. They even offered me a tiny glass filled with chilled grapes. It's a small, but exquisite touch.
Only Coffee at Café de l'Ambre, Ginza
Open since 1948, l'Ambre in Ginza is a classic Japanese "kissaten" (coffee shop) and emphasizes mood and the quality of the cup. The sign outside proudly proclaims that they serve "Only Coffee" and that's exactly what you find. There's no food, other drinks, or even milk or sugar to speak of. Select the size of your cup and watch as each is dripped through a cotton filter from a copper kettle into a small copper pot and then transferred to a pre-warmed cup. It's a hypnotic process. And the coffee is, of course, excellent.
Japanese Craft Beers at Goodbeer Faucets, Shibuya
Most people in the States can probably only name a few Japanese breweries. Sapporo, Kirin, maybe Asahi. But as expat beer manager Eldad Bribrom at Goodbeer Faucets in Shibuya tells me, Japan's craft beer scene has been exploding in the past couple of years. Goodbeer Faucets has more than 40 microbrews on tap, including American and Belgian beers, and a large portion are Japanese crafts. I sampled some of the Japanese brews: (from left to right) Chateau Kamiya's "Akiagari" lager, Brimmer's "Strong Pale Ale", and Nide Beer's "Monster C IPA." They were all excellent examples of their respective beers; smooth and full flavored. Bribrom tells me that Japanese craft beers are slowly becoming available this side of the Pacific, so the next time you see one, I highly recommend giving it a shot.