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    A Tokyoite’s choice of tipple for every occasion
    Rising star bartender Holly Graham shares her favourite cocktail bars in Tokyo
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    Credit: Millie Tsang
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    After a decade of building a profile as an author, journalist and mixologist in Hong Kong, I moved to Japan last year to open my first bar, Tokyo Confidential, in the capital. The bar is a homage to my house parties on Lantau Island, where I built a home bar to sling drinks for friends.

    Window looking onto Tokyo

    Credit: Millie Tsang

    Tiger graphics behind hand holding glass

    Credit: Millie Tsang

    Tokyo Confidential evokes that same sense of warm hospitality with delightful chaos, while giving arguably the best views of Tokyo Tower from its balcony and rooftop space. Guests can sit around the horseshoe-shaped bar, made from 300-year-old reclaimed temple pine, and meet new friends while sitting at eye level with the bartenders.

    As I’ve been settling in, I’ve loved exploring my new home’s cocktail bars: here are six of my favourites.

    Yellow cocktail
    Flower wall art

    El Fujiyama, Azabujuban 

    Our ever-supportive neighbour and fellow lover of agave is the tiny but mighty El Fujiyama . Specialising in agave spirits, the team also distributes mezcal across Japan, meaning they have access to some rare bottles, including some that are exclusive to the market. Their cocktails are also innovative: take their yuzu margarita, which uses a blend of three different varieties of Cascahuin tequila. On Saturdays, they also whip up some of the best tacos I’ve had outside Mexico, using Japanese ingredients like market-fresh eel and snow crab.

    Bar Benfiddich, Shinjuku 

    It’s hard to choose from the best bars in Tokyo, but this bar and its owner, Hiroyasu Kayama, are nothing short of genius. Benfiddich was the place that convinced me to embrace my mortal enemy – absinthe – by pairing it with yuzu and banana to create the Banabsinthe cocktail. Every visit is a cosy experience and good for the soul, thanks to the environment and the bespoke drinks that never fail to hit the spot. In a city oversaturated with no-menu bars, Benfiddich is one of the best. The team uses ingredients from Kayama-san’s own farm, and the fact this wizard of a proprietor stirs cocktails with trimmed juniper branches is nothing short of endearing.

    Japanese Tea set
    The Bellwood exterior
    Interior with red flooring

    The Bellwood, Shibuya  

    All roads lead to The Bellwood . I always find myself here – especially on my days off. Founded by Atsushi Suzuki, this small cocktail bar offers elevated drinks in a casual setting. As well as great twists on classics, like the Banana Sazerac, there are also more out-there drinks on the “cocktail kaiseki” menu, such as the Melon Cream: pisco, coconut and melon topped with champagne, garnished with a scoop of gorgonzola ice cream and a monaka cracker.

    5Gallons and Taki, Shinjuku 

    My head bartender Waka Murata started her career at 5Gallons in Shinjuku’s infamous Golden Gai neighbourhood. While it’s always worth a visit and makes guests feel at home, it can be something of a tourist trap. If 5Gallons is full, Taki upstairs always has a character slinging drinks. One of my favourite moments there was sitting at the bar, being served by a sassy Japanese man who’d lived in the US for many years and was also a talent on the trumpet. He put some jazz on and freestyled along. It was so intimate and beautiful, it brought me to tears.

    Qwang Bar interior
    Qwang cocktail

    Qwang, Nishiazabu 

    While Qwang may look like a typical Japanese bar, its husband-and-wife team Yasuhiro and Junko Hasegawa have created more of a casual, neighbourhood atmosphere in this dimly lit basement spot. Qwang has been in business for over 25 years, and its warm hospitality is accompanied by expertly created classic cocktails and a decent selection of no- and low-alcohol drinks. However, my favourite part is that they serve some of the best Thai food in town. Junko had previously cooked at various Thai restaurants in Tokyo and is a master of her craft, serving a green curry with a mean kick. Thai-Japanese fusion dishes, like Thai-style okonomiyaki pancake, pop up on the weekly changing menu. 

    Drink with rose

    Credit: Ryomayagi

    VIRTU interior

    Credit: Ryomayagi

    Bartender shaking drink

    Credit: Ryomayagi

    Virtù, Otemachi 

    My dear friend Keith Motsi leads the fantastic team at this Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo bar , which embodies a Paris-meets-Tokyo atmosphere. This stunningly beautiful venue provides top-notch hospitality, with sky-high views and some of the best bar snacks – think wagyu jerky and caviar with waffles. One of my favourite drinks here is the Thé Hoji Épicé, with hoji vodka, hoji liqueur, aromatic bitters, ginger beer and cranberries, topped with a show-stopping piece of rose-shaped pink ice.

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