A fast-track primer to Tokyo. By Elisabeth King.
Japanese whiskies have become giant killers, beating their Scottish and American rivals in international competitions. Bar Zoetrope (below), an intimate barfly’s haunt in Shinjuku, stocks more than 300 bottlings from Suntory to rare single-cask one-offs you won’t find anywhere else. Whiskies sourced directly from distilleries throughout Japan are the magnets at Bar Kamo in Ginza but only those with deep wallets should order the elite selection of very rare spirits. The HQ of whisky giant Nikka is close to Aoyama Gakuin University, where the Blender’s Bar in the basement stocks everything from everyday tipples to 17-year-old pure malts.
Glamping to Ultra Luxe
Tokyo has been famed for its luxury hotels for decades but a new page was turned last December with the launch of the Aman Tokyo (below), the luxury hotel group’s first urban retreat. Located on the top six floors of Tokyo’s new Otemachi Tower, the floor-to-ceiling windows are filled with views of the Imperial Palace Gardens and Mount Fuji. The 84 rooms and suites are the largest in the city and even the swimming pool, framed by gigantic pillars, ranks as a tourist attraction. There’s a traditional onsen in the huge spa and a sleekly expensive design aesthetic of black basalt, blonde woods and solid stone.
Poshtels, a.k.a luxury hostels, have become a worldwide phenomenon and the latest Tokyo entrant in the category is Khaosan Tokyo Origami in Asakusa. Close to Sensoji Temple, rooms range from dorms to singles and doubles. Beautifully decorated with an on-site art gallery and attractive staff, regular workshops and events guarantee interaction with fellow guests.
Bar With A View
Even Tokyo natives don’t have a hope of getting a grip on the whole city sprawl. For first-time visitors and old hands, the thrill of gazing out on the tidal wave of flashing lights of Tokyo at night never palls. An army of bars claims to offer the best after-dark panorama but standout contenders are: The Star Road bar at the Grand Pacific Le Daiba (grandpacific.jp), The Peak Bar at the Park Hyatt (below) and the Imperial Lounge Aqua of the iconic Imperial Hotel, designed in the 1920s by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Michelin To Ramen
Tokyo has more Michelin 3 Star restaurants than Paris – 12 to the French capital’s nine. A long time fan of sushi, President Obama dropped by at the triple stellar Sukiyabashi Jiro (below) in Ginza which is booked out for weeks ahead. Ramen in all its guises seems to be the dish of the day at half of Tokyo’s 100,000 restaurants. Hot tip: Kikuya, dishing up the noodles since 1952. Have no fear even if you’re reduced to chowing down in a hole-in-the-wall that seats six… a bad meal is tough to track down.
From Karaoke to Lock Up
Tokyo has 88,000 bars but some venues are worth a pilgrimage. Karaoke Kan in Shibuya gained fame as the venue where Bill Murray filmed the godawful singing scene in Lost In Translation. Lovenet (below) in Roppongi has a variety of wacky booths and settings where drinkers can murder their favourite song – while submerged in a hot tub or in Heaven, where thousands of crystals sparkle from under a glass floor.
Know Your ’Hood
Like any vast city, Tokyo is a series of ’hoods. Global fast fashion brands may have set up shop in Harajuku but it remains the capital of kei – the wacky tribes who change their fashion direction by the month. Hipster cafes, vintage menswear shops and more springboard major trends. Shibuya is the definitive ’hood for on-trend boutiques, bars, nightclubs and restaurants, from exy to dirt-cheap. It’s also home to The Monocle Shop, where the luxe magazine’s lifestyle comes to life. Akihabara is an often overwhelming homage to geekdom and gadgets. Ease yourself into the future with a visit to Yodabashi Camera Superstore (below) – nine stories of the latest in high-tech.