|Street sign in Ginza, Tokyo, Japan|
The wide, clean streets didn't seem too busy on an early weekday afternoon but there were a fair few Japanese housewives out shopping: the modern ones with designer shopping bags dangling from their perfectly manicured hands, but also the traditional, kimono-clad ladies walking slowly but with purpose.
|Side street at Ginza|
Lined with short and tall buildings, it was the extensive and small signage in front of the street's buildings that was most interesting. Some required binoculars to read, but within the countless signs hide bars and other liveliness that had to be discovered and found, before being seen and believed.
|Hai-booru - whisky highball|
Basically just a whisky and soda served in a highball glass, it took marketing geniuses at one of the Japanese whisky producers to brand the simple mixed drink a hai-booru before the local Scotch-style whisky market really took off with the younger generation of drinkers.
|Main road in Ginza by night|
We had a plan of attack with a list of about five bars to visit in an evening, all mapped out after some much-needed hotel concierge and street directory assistance. Good eyesight and some basic reading of Japanese hiragana/katakana also came in handy for reading the small signs outside the buildings.
Perhaps needless to say, we forgot about dinner and only made it to two bars.
|Signature City Coral cocktail at Tender Bar, Ginza|
Ueda is the big name behind Tender Bar, and renowned in serious bartending circles for his signature 'hard shake' - a cocktail shaking method that is meant to result in cocktails with a softer, milder alcohol taste. In the presence of bartending royalty, I had to order one of his signature cocktails that featured the hard shake, and unknowingly, a couple of brightly coloured liqueurs too.
Aside from the dramatic Blue Curacao tinted salt rim and crust on the outside of the flute, the City Coral had gin, grapefruit juice and Midori. In a way the salt crust made sense as an alternative flavour to the very Midori-sweet cocktail; although the fried pea snacks were helpful too.
|Old Fashioned cocktail|
By now we'd been joined at the bar by pairs of locals: an older Japanese couple, regulars, drinking whisky and a Campari soda; the guy lighting up a cigar in the small, neat room. There were a couple of young businessmen with ties over their shoulders and further down, two young females taking photos of their Tender Bar experience.
We were replenished with new snacks on our second round of drinks; a tasty mix of nuts and crackers, making me wonder if the snacks kept upgrading to the point of a steak or something.
While the noise in the bar had picked up a little from the stiff, empty start, there was still a quiet reverence about the small crowd which almost watched Ueda's every move. He was also the only one making cocktails, with his associates fetching bottles, garnishes and utensils in anticipation for him.
One can definitely understand and feel the nobility in which Ueda goes about his work; his pride adding an inimitable flavour to his cocktails.
|Whiskey options at Doulton Bar, Ginza|
It was an insightful experience: firstly, entering the building at an incorrect level and peering into one of the rooms/venues where a formally dressed lady sang and danced for the entertainment of a few business men. It was all clean, but enlightening nonetheless.
|Inside Doulton Bar|
He shuffled into his place behind the bar, his bar, and asked us to take two of the probably six or eight seats at the bar, and mind you, the only seats in the entire venue. The bar was small, probably 7 x 4 metres, and had more bottles of whiskey than a whiskey drinker could poke a stick at.
|Minoru Kokuzawa, owner of Doulton Bar|
He doesn't speak any English other than the essential: martini, Manhattan, whiskey, bitters. My high school Japanese went some way, but not nearly enough to capture the 40 years of life and experiences behind a Ginza bar.
We veered towards classics, and because it really wasn't the environment for a Cosmopolitan. Indeed, Kokuzawa-san and I even had a basic level chat about mojitos and lychees flavours in cocktails; the latter which he didn't seem to abhor but also didn't seem to understand its popularity.
He makes a martini without ice, his signature if you will. Made a little dirty with a bar spoon of olive brine, the chilled gin is stirred with a smidgen of vermouth and a dash of orange bitters, which is not the norm but perhaps the unusual is what it takes to stand out in Tokyo.
|Canapes at Doulton Bar|
Egg and anchovy, and pate and olive have never looked or tasted so sophisticated as in the Doutlon Bar setting. Essentially our dinner for the night, we made a quick meal of it over martinis, Manhattans and laugh-filled bi-lingual conversations.
According to a hazy memory and some photos, there were a couple more martinis at Doulton Bar, and plenty of blank faces and "wakarimasen's" in the night, of which half of it didn't quite make it to my personal memory bank.
However, the parts I do remember at Doulton Bar - Kokuzawa's friendly, smiling face; his passion and generosity; the first sip of his martini - will stay with me forever.
Plenty more Japan posts to come; in the meantime, see more photos on my Facebook page.