Which ones can you recommend?
I tried a few of the usual suspects, that is New York Bar, Bar Radio #3 and Peter. These I liked, but many many places fail terribly at simple cocktails, and I grew a bit tired of experimenting, when all I want is a Gimlet.
You will know these, but for the sake of completeness:
NY Bar, Park Hyatt 56th floor
3-7-1-2 Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku-Ku, Tokyo, Japan
Peter, The Peninsula
1-8-1 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-Ku, Tokyo, Japan
Bar Radio #3
3-10-34 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-Ku, Tokyo, Japan
Regarding the "nicer" bars in Tokyo, are there any that don't have cover charges? So far, I've found the following:
NY Bar--Y2200 cover charge after 8pm Mon-Sat, after 7pm Sun
What about Peter @ The Peninsula?
Bar Radio #3?
Oriental Lounge@ Mandarin Oriental Hotel?
I'm looking for a place where I can get a pre-dinner cocktail. I wanted to go to Star Bar, but I rarely have more than 1 drink, so it's a bit much if I'm paying Y1500+ for a drink plus a Y2000 cover charge. I
Going to NY Bar is an option, but I'm open to other suggestions!
Not sure about the two hotel bars for charges, but both charge more for the drinks than most top-tier bars. Radio, like Star Bar and Bar Tender, is notoriously expensive. The two Shibuya joints are the cheapest, of course - I think they both have a 500 yen charge, though I may be wrong. At least, I never leave either place feeling crushed by the bill.
If you are looking for French wines I found a very good wine bar in Nishi Azabu across from the US base on Seijoki Dori. It's called Salon Des Saluts.
They had an amazing white burgundy list including some a whole lot of montrachets, even some batard and chevalier, and a large red bordeux list. Of course not cheap, but a smaller than usual markup for Tokyo.
There is some food there, but not a place for a full dinner. Cheese, some sort of dried fruit platter, shellfish, some meats. It is an after dinner place to relax and talk over a nice bottle of wine. Talk as late as you want because it is open until 4AM.
I like Amrta in a back street of Roppongi, actually may still be Nishi Azabu. Intentionally hard to find. Interesting modern art on the walls that changes ever couple of months, interesting fusion music and good vibe for hanging out. Only downside for me is it is also a cigar bar, but it rarely seems to be a problem unless the people I'm with light up at our table.
Star Bar is the titan of the Tokyo drinking scene, and with pretty good reason - the bartender not only lasted for years at a notoriously difficult bar, but stayed there three years after winning the world's top cocktail competition. That's the Tokyo bartending equivalent of scoring the winning goal in a world cup final, then shrugging and trotting back to the touchline. He also sets the rules and picks the drinks for Japan's domestic bartending comps.
1-5-13 Ginza, Chuo-ku.
Is Star Bar (new address http://starbar.jp ) the type of place where even unsophisticated cocktalians would feel at home?
I'd like to give it (or Bar High Five) a try, but am a little worried about feeling out of place. I'd probably go early and just have a couple of cocktails (though no more because I'm a lightweight!).
Hard to say if you'll feel out of place without knowing what kind of place you like, but neither of those bars is about cocktail snobbery. You don't need to know anything about cocktails to go there - in fact you'll get much more out of them if you describe what kind of drink you want and let them sort you out. And in terms of lightweights, you'll be more tolerant to booze than the main bartenders at both those bars.
For top-flight cocktail bars with an easygoing vibe, Shibuya's Ishinohana and Correos are both pretty great too.
Thanks. I tend to like low-key places where I can just sit and drink a well-crafted cocktail. I'm not a hipster, nor do I care about scenes. I just like to feel comfortable without being looked down upon. It sounds like I won't feel too uncomfortable at Star Bar, so if I can fit it into our schedule, I'll give it a try!