Male bartenders in Japan are full of themselves. There, I said it. From the few "star" bars we visited during our trip to Tokyo, I felt miffed by the arrogance and general unfriendliness of the bartenders. What is up with that? Where is the hospitality? People say that you have to keep going to these sort of bars in Japan until you are "accepted". Er, sorry but I don't care to continuously patron a snobby establishment to be accepted into its self-absorbed world. Not my thing.
And of course I'm over-generalizing. I've met many wonderful male bartenders from Japan! It's just a couple of the bar stops we made in Tokyo that left a bad taste in my mouth, as they say. But I mustn't let it! Case in point: this post is about how we ended our night in Nakano, at one of the most fantastic bars on the planet.
After our excellent yakitori experience at Shimon-ya, we piled into a cab for our next stop. Featured in the latest issue of Ecocolo magazine, Eri and her staff knew Hitomi well.
When we pulled up to our destination, I was happy to find that this was an ordinary, no-frills establishment. No waterfalls or velour elevators here.
Don't let the run-down exterior or the janky Budweiser sign put you off. You are about to step into one of the most special places on the planet, overseen by one man: Kenzo Sakamoto.
Photo by Yoko Kumano.
From the moment we walked into Hitomi, we were transported into a far-away, cozy galaxy. Mr. Sakamoto greeted us warmly as all seven of us walked into his bar, that had been reserved all for us!
With only about 10 seats, Bar Hitomi is dark and moody at first glance. Mr. Sakamoto stood in the corner, a skinny man with salt and pepper-streaked hair and dressed in a slightly baggy shirt, vest and bowtie. The space seemed to have stopped in time, perhaps 30 or 40 years ago? It was all very Lynchian.
Bizarre wall decor. Photo by Yoko Kumano.
But this bar wasn't really so "dark and moody" afterall. It was downright eccentric. As the night went on, Mr. Sakamoto led us deep into his world, consisting of excellent drinks, a breaking-down jukebox, phone calls from a rotary phone, and the occasional chuckle.
If you call Hitomi, this phone will ring.
The occasionally glitchy jukebox. Rattle it around, to start it over. Photo by Yoko Kumano.
The shelves of the back bar was lined with rows behind rows of spirits from around the world, as well as Mr. Sakamoto's own bathtub creations. He lined up his basic "well" spirits on the bar because he wanted his customers to know exactly what he was using as his base spirits. I liked this philosophy immensely.
Photo by Yoko Kumano.
Mr. Sakamoto made us many drinks throughout the evening. We watched in awe while he shook, mixed and stirred. He was a true bar master.
I don't know why, but I started the evening with a Bloody Mary.
Mixed with the house-made tomato drink, infused with dried clams.
I saw a kiwi in his fruit basket and I asked him to make me something with it. He used an old school ice crank and made this slushy refreshing cocktail for me with vodka:
A requisite Daikiri, the test of a truly talented (or talent-less) bartender:
Tart + dry = excellent Daikiri. And nice block of ice!
My favorite drink of the night was the Jack Rose, made with house-infused apple cognac.
Watch him make the drink, I love his shake!
Mr. Sakamoto admitted to entering many bartender competitions throughout the year, and says his shake is shorter than most. The drink came out exquisitely:
Here are drinks that Mr. Sakamoto made for my companions. Sorry, I don't know what the drinks are exactly. But they are pretty!
Happy group shot!
Mr. Sakamoto's boyish charm was a great balance for us rowdy gals. Photo by Yoko Kumano.
In honesty, this whole night is a bright blur. Not because I was inebriated (there's that too), but because Mr. Sakamoto, or "Master", has created a truly magical bar. Hitomi was not over-the-top or trying to create a sophisticated atmosphere. It just was! But it has that something that all of us creative folks try to achieve -- to recreate the world as we see it, and share it with others. Hitomi was Mr. Sakamoto's charming world, open for us to explore and visit. With excellent drinks!
This bar was my Paradiso.
Mr. Sakamoto encapsulates humor, grace, and showed us true hospitality. Who is Hitomi??? We vow to discover one day.
*Top photo by Yoko. Photos by me unless otherwise noted.