At the end of a long week spent working on Monocle’s upcoming Quality of Life issue and in the interests of further research, I decide to improve the quality of my life by taking myself off to Ginza to seek out the perfect bar. Ginza on a warm Friday night is an exhilarating place. Nowhere else in Tokyo rivals it for elegance.
I walk along Namiki Dori Street, one of the largest of a neat grid of streets lined with heavyweight labels and old-school Japanese outfitters that have stood in Ginza for generations. I pass Fugetsudo, an old café that has been in Ginza since the 1870s, past Ten Ichi, the celebrated tempura restaurant that has entertained countless heads of state. This is the Ginza of the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice, which saw Sean Connery at his most stylish driving along these very streets in an open top sports car with a backcombed Akiko Wakabayashi.
I have narrowed my search to a single bar and I quickly reach my destination. In typical Ginza fashion, the bar I am seeking is nestled on the seventh floor of a narrow, non-descript building. Nothing at street level indicates what goes on in any of these buildings in Ginza. As company presidents pour out of Toyota Centuries heading for their venue of choice only the occasional glimpse of a welcoming kimono-clad hostess gives a hint of where they are going.
I enter an ordinary office lift with several others who get out on different floors. There is a single establishment on each one. Every time the lift doors open, we can hear the promising low hum of people drinking and talking.
As the lift reaches the seventh floor, the door to my bar is opened before I can even reach for the handle. Immediately, the brightly-lit lift is a distant memory, replaced by tinkling jazz, comfortably dim lighting and a warm cloth to wipe away the tiredness of the week. Warm wood panelling. Leather chairs. Reassuringly old fashioned. A counter for a handful of tables and an impressively stocked, well-polished bar. A small team of barmen in white jackets quietly attends to the customers. Head among these, in a cream double-breasted jacket, is Mr Yoshida, a Ginza legend who has been in the business for decades.
Before anything else happens, I am presented with a cup of consommé and I know I’m in safe hands. There’s nothing so vulgar as a menu at this bar. I order a classic daiquiri while my companion orders one of Yoshida-san’s famous martinis. It’s like watching a surgeon at work. His fellow barmen work alongside him, wordlessly passing him just what he needs when he needs it.
My fellow customers are a low-key crowd. Couples, pairs of women, men in suits on their own, who come in for one drink after work and then leave. I watch as two women order something delicious with fresh mint and champagne and make a mental note to read up on cocktails before I come back.
The bill is substantial – like all bills in Japan these days, but it’s worth every yen. In a place like this, one perfectly prepared drink is all that’s required to set up the evening. As we leave a waiter comes to call the lift for us and bows deeply as the doors close. And the name of this place? I’m afraid I will have to save that for the next issue of the magazine.