All we could do, is laugh. As we rush out of my favorite fish on sticks place* to hail a cab, the rain is coming down mean and hard. The sidewalks are overfilling with steep puddles and I swear I see Noah’s Arc with elephants and giraffes lined up two-by-two heading our way.
“Should I call an Uber?” he asks. “This is Tokyo. Ubers are unnecessary.” I say. He looks back at me a bit skeptical and just when he was about to whip out his phone I spy an empty cab I successfully flag down. “See?” I say and he smiles, holds the umbrella up near the door as I rush in. Even with him shielding the rain with our shared umbrella, the downpour is so aggressive I’m immediately drenched. He climbs in after me making sound effects. He is wetter than I. We look at each other and laugh. The cab driver laughs — first at his gibberish, then with us as I say, “only thing left to do is laugh.”
We reach our destination only ten minutes away. I hop out first, sprint into the bar. As fast as I thought I moved I still can’t avoid the rain. I open the door and tumble in, disheveled and half out of breath. Four of the eight seats are taken by couples. They turn towards me and give me a sympathetic smile. I look up at the tall, striking man standing behind the bar. His white coat is crisp and there is a regalness which surrounds him. It is silent and I look back at him apologetically for my dramatic entrance. I state my name and tell him we are the party of four at 9pm. He smiles kindly and says, “Thank you for coming in this horrid weather. Please, take a seat.”
I stop, a bit embarrassed by the way I rushed in and disrupted his tranquil space. I catch my breath, excuse myself and head straight to the restroom to wipe the rain off my clothes, hair, bare arms and legs. As I collect myself the best I could and head to our seats, I can’t help but take in the aromas of the bar. Unlike other bars that reek of smoke and alcohol and perfumes from fresh fruits, this one transports you into a whimsical zen forest. It’s almost as though we are wrapped in an invisible cloud of wood-scented mist; I immediately forget the nasty weather I just escaped.
My dining companion comes in a few seconds after me. He too, excuses himself to use the restroom to collect himself. As he sits down next to me we look at each other and smile a knowing smile: this is going to be a special experience.
We are at Gen Yamamoto, one of the most popular bars in Tokyo, nestled in the Nishi Azabu neighborhood.
As we sit in silence waiting for the rest of our party to arrive, I am already infatuated by Gen-san. He speaks English with an accent but his command of the language is perfect. I can’t help but be taken by the tone of his voice, cadence of his speech. It’s soothing, almost poetic, which suits the bar perfectly. As our other friend arrives a bit tardy, I apologize to Gen-san for his lateness. Gen-san is not bothered one bit and swiftly pulls out an oshibori (wet cloths to wipe our hands), lays one menu in front of us and another in front of our friend. The fourth guest by the way, was planning to arrive so late, I just tell our friend to tell her to stay home.
We order the six course menu and off we go. I took photos throughout the course. But since I lost my phone, there are no visuals to share. It really doesn’t matter anyway, as Gen Yamamoto’s menu changes daily.
I took some notes that were thankfully synced (SimpleNote is a useful app. Highly recommended!) and here is what we had:
Gooseberry and sparkling wine
Pioni (grape) with Kagoshima shochu
Edamame cocktail with sencha
Nectarine and rye gin
Ume crushed ice and whiskey
When I heard gooseberry as the first cocktail I was a tad concerned. Gooseberry’s tartness can be overwhelming. I took one sip and the silky liquid with slight bubbles caught me off guard and the taste! The aroma was fresh, like early summer mornings before the scorching heat kicks in. But what surprised me the most was the combination of the textures and tastes. There was some scientific reaction that made magic in my mouth.
Everything was delicious (I really loved the ume crushed ice and whiskey) but the edamame cocktail was hands down the most memorable. It was smooth, creamy, almost like a breakfast cereal and the sencha powder floated atop gave the morning drink a grown-up kick perfect for night time. I’ve never had anything like it.
Gen-san, is a self trained mixologist. His cocktails are supremely creative and tastes of the seasons. When we asked where his inspiration comes from, he said any time, any place. Usually while he is eating but needs to be “on” and focused on the ingredients. He takes several days off every few months to visit the farms in the Japanese countryside where he purchases his fruits. Everything in his bar is hand selected — from the ingredients, the liquors and spirits he uses, to the glasses he uses, which are custom made for his bar. He doesn’t measure which may bother some, as the pours are sometimes uneven. The off-pours are a rarity in the obsessive world of mixology but his cocktails encapsulate him: refined, refreshing, relaxed, subdued with a slight warmth and cheekiness that I barely ever see in Japanese craftsmen.
It’s a bit uneasy to chit chat but he doesn’t mind if people converse. Though I have a feeling you will be too occupied with his mixing and muddling, so taken by the temple like serene ambiance, you’ll just want to sit in silence and watch him perform his craft.
Oh. And his bar is custom made from none other than Hokkaido Mizunara wood. Just like the whiskey we had the other night.
Drop this into Google Maps ↓
〒106-0045 Tokyo, Minato 麻布十番1-6-4
Tuesday – Saturday 3:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Sunday 3:00 pm – 10:00 pm