Craft beer bars in Tokyo
- Silverjay Jan 9, 2014 10:59 AM
Starting what I hope can be a running thread on the craft beer bar scene in Tokyo.
So this initial list is brief. But two things I like to angle for as a visitor, are places that are open during the day so one can pop in for a half pint or two or such AND places that offer the local Japanese crafts. Here are some thoughts on the ones I’ve been to last few years:
Perhaps the mothership of craft beer in Japan and maybe Asia in terms of offerings. 70 taps. About 2/3 seem to be local. Even the non-Japanese stuff, beyond a few commonly found Stone and Rogue brews, is interesting. They open at 5pm. Time your visit to the Edo Museum appropriately if you fancy a post-historic quaff.
Location is kind of buried in the hill up beyond Seibu. I’ve only been here once a few years ago. Menu was about half American crafts. If I were residing in Tokyo, I’d be more into this place to drink stuff from home. As a visitor, maybe not necessarily a destination. 5pm on weekdays but 3pm on weekends.
Naka Meguro Taproom-
This is one of several places from Baird Beer, a nice craft brewer started by an American chap several years ago. Sort of a standard brewer’s taproom format with a full menu of their category offerings and then a few specialty or one-off brews. They usually have cask stuff as well. Sample flights are encouraged. Good beer. My only gripe is the square, bright, wooden rather antiseptic layout of this location. It’s literally a tapROOM. Also, not sure if they started table service or not. The few times I went, you had to order at the counter. Location is in the office building next to Naka Meguro Station (god, I remember when they built that thing). 5pm on weekdays. Noon on weekends. Perhaps worth a pre-game stop for a meal in the hood or a post meal drink. Not sure it’s worth a detour for tourists otherwise.
I prefer this Harajuku location of Baird’s. Evade the hordes and the smell of crepes right off of busy Takeshita-dori. Beer format is the same, but the place is more of a (fun) yakitori bar set-up and they provide table service. Same hours as above. Worth a pop-in if you are sightseeing on a weekend in Harajuku/ Omotesando.
Watering Hole (Yoyogi/ Shinjuku)-
Excellent joint with good selection of local stuff and a few foreign brews. Great tap system they have set up. Address is probably a Yoyogi one and technically it’s closer to Yoyogi Station, but it’s not a far walk from Shinjuku, past Takashimaya, on Meiji. Would it be ideal if this were in the center of action near the East Exit or even Kabukicho? Sure. But it’s not much of a detour. And it’s open from 3pm everyday. Worth the walking detour if you want good beer.
BarBar (Tokyo Station)-
I actually think Tokyo Station is a legitimate tourist destination in itself these days. The beautiful renovation of both the exterior and the Marunouchi halls, as well as all the shopping, food, and dining options are worth a perusal. I tend to use Shinagawa as my Shinkansen port of departure these days, but if you are leaving from Tokyo St. it’s worth getting there early to check things out. BarBar is a little Japanese craft beer place on the Yaesu side, inside the gates, closest to probably the north exit. Interior has a standing commuter bar feel, but there is a cool S-shaped wooden table in the middle of the room and counter seating. A busy one-man cooking operation. Modest selection of both tap and bottled Japanese craft beer and some foreign big brewer stuff. BarBar is open from 11am everyday and I think closes at 10pm.
Saved my favorite for last. Great selection of Japanese crafts. The set-up is interesting. There is a main pub with a counter and tables. Then there is a smaller little standing bar annex with nothing more than one raggedy table in the middle. I don’t think there is even a stool to sit…. They are in the same building but separated by another establishment between them. The list of beers in the pub and the annex is about 15 each and there is no overlap. They also usually have one really good craft sake on draft… I like the informality and inevitable conversational qualities of the annex, which has a little bit of a downtown Showa feel to it. Menu is more Japanese tsumami or skewers. It’s also open from 1pm on weekends (though sometimes it’s been open earlier), so it’s great for a pop-in.….Anyway, for evenings the pub is nice to sit in. Has both a friendly neighborhood vibe but also a crosstown destination type clientele. You have to pay as you go also. No tab. This is the only place among this list I’ve really eaten food at. Dishes are cheap and reasonably interesting and not so unhealthy (avocado sashimi is a popular item). Pub opens from 5pm…The Ushitora guys are tight with the excellent Montreal-based brewpub brewer Dieu du Ciel and are either doing collabs or getting support on brewing under Ushitora label…Location can be tricky the first time. It’s at the end of the lane to the right the Ozeki Supermarket, on the second floor. Not a lot of signage.
Harajuku Taproom is our local, but Nakameguro Taproom has become much more lively recently, with table service, and with New Haven style pizza that on a good day is very good, a vast improvement over the previous food situation. There are a couple of new places that have opened recently but I haven't had the time to try - Devilcraft, Beer Craft Market, I think one or two more.
Also, Kura Kura has about 10 Japanese craft beers on tap, and is not a bad option if you're in that part of town with surprisingly good toriwasa and okay sausages, and there's Goodbeer Faucets (I'm not a big fan of the atmosphere, but good selection), and the little Brimmer Beer Box (their brews are just too much, I think).
Great idea for a topic! There's been an explosion of new craft-beer bars in the past 18 months, and it can be difficult keeping track of all the new openings.
I'll just mention a few that aren't on your list, although I'm also a fan of Ushi-Tora, Craftheads and Watering Hole.
DevilCraft, with branches in Kanda and Hamamatsucho, offers a well-chosen lineup of around twenty craft beers, an even mix between US and Japanese craft beers (which is a common pattern these days). They also make excellent deep-dish pizza.
The comically narrow Dry Dock in Shimbashi offers a lot of high-end US imports that I've never seen elsewhere in town, although their prices tend to be a bit higher than average.
Craft Beer Market, currently with three branches (Awajicho, Uchisaiwaicho, Jimbocho) gets high marks for their food and their below-average prices, with a selection of maybe 20 beers on tap, again a mix of Japanese and US. Unfortunately they're closed on weekends.
BBQ restaurant Smokehouse in Harajuku has twelve taps, with six devoted to TY Harbor beers (which have gotten much better over the years, and are now consistently pretty good) and six guest beers from breweries like Bear Republic and Stone.
The Hangover in Nakano-Sakaue deserves mention for their late-night hours (open until 5am) and their selection, which includes some hard-to-find bottled beers to supplement their draft-beer selection. They also do excellent Buffalo wings (the owner is actually from Buffalo, I believe).
Vivo! Beer + Dining Bar in Ikebukuro also has a pretty serious selection, again a mix of US + Japanese micros. Also in Ikebukuro, Beer Saurus is notable for their spacious quarters, their budget-friendly happy hour (6-8pm) and their late-night hours (until 3am).
re: Robb S
Apparently there have been some changes at The Hangover. I'm not sure what the story is as I've only heard second-hand, but the American part-owner/manager has left/been forced out of the business, so the vibe and food/beer selection may change a bit. I definitely liked the atmosphere and music better when he was there, so it's pretty crappy news.
Nice list, just a couple of comments...
Craftheads nowadays offers a lot of Japanese brews, some of which are very good.
Watering Hole is closer to Yoyogi station than Shinjuku, but the address is Sendagaya. (Takashimaya also has a Sendagaya address, and I think part of Shinjuku station is actually in Sendagaya.) Personally I think the relatively quiet location is much more suitable than someplace like Kabukicho; it's nice to be able to stumble out of there without immediately dealing with crowds or touts.
Tokyo Station is indeed well worth exploring in its own right; there's a nice little stand-up beer and wine bar inside the gates just above NeX tracks called Le Collier, which also has a retail section where you can also buy Japanese craft beers to take on the Shinkansen (or take home if you're not traveling). BarBar however is outside the gates, in the JR-managed Kurobei Yokocho complex on the Yaesu side. Personally it's my least favorite of the four or five craft-beer bars on the Yaesu side, but they do have a convenient location and convenient hours.
re: Robb S
One thing about Watering Hole - they seem to have a lot of special events (not sure if they're beer classes, or what) that I'm sure they announce on twitter or Facebook, but check before you go or you'll find it closed. Their actual last order is also substantially earlier than officially listed (not unusual in Tokyo).
Great report, Silverjay.
Let me add that I have been to Faucets in Shibuya, near the entrance to Bunkamura, several times and like it. On weekdays, happy hour is until 8 pm, and there is 200 yen off pints. One time they had Brimmer Brewing (great session beers) brown ale for 700 yen a pint, which became 500 yen during happy hour.
You're only missing one thing in my experience, which is Ant 'n' Bee in Roppongi. Just south of the crossing, west side, basement. It's better than several on the list, with very good food to boot.
Ushitora is probably my other favorite. You're right about Craftheads - the one time I went, I think they had 10 different beers from Stone on tap, which is pretty amazing anywhere but much less so if you live in America and Stone is in every store.
There are actually a lot of places that haven't been mentioned here yet. Swanlake Edo Pub in Kyobashi has around 30 Japanese beers, but they're kind of expensive, except for their own Swanlake beers. Nearby in Kyobashi/Yaesu are Towers (a standing bar), Ibrew (with a few seats, and very good prices and decent food) and Bacchus (Japanese beers and one hand-pumped ale in a smoky basement).
Crafthands in Azabu-Juban carries 13 Japanese beers on tap. There are smaller selections (4-8 taps) at small local spots like Maltan (Kanda), Bamboo (Shinjuku 1-chome), Marumugi (Arakicho), Lodi (Nakano Sakaue), Hatos Bar (Naka-Meguro), Nepalese restaurant Himalaya Table (Kanda), and gourmet hot dog stand San Francisco Peaks (Harajuku).
Out on the Chuo line are Bicke and Holic in Kichijoji, and two brewpubs - Asagaya Bakushu Dojo and Koenji Bakushu Kobo.
These are the craft beer places that I go to fairly regularly and can recommend. I tend to like hoppy IPAs and this type of beer can be found at the below places listed.
1. Ushitora in Shimo Kitazawa
2. Naka Meguro Taproom in Naka Meguro
3. Bashamichi Taproom in Bashamichi (Yokohama)
4. Ant 'n' Bee in Roppongi
5. Antenna America in Kannai (Yokohama)
6. Devilcraft in Hamamatsucho and Kanda
7. Bulldog in Ginza
8. Thrash Zone in Yokohama
A new place in Roppongi opened recently that sounds promising. It's called Two Dogs and apparently they have 20 beers on tap daily, which will be expanded to 30 in the near future. They serve a few of their own beers and will be a fully operational brewery at some point.
While the review of Two Dogs in Metropolis magazine said it was a brewery, it isn't. They are not making beer there, and it seems they don't even have a space there to to do. Their "own beers" are made for them by Brimmer Brewing in Kawasaki, and likely it would take them a few years of brewing experience to make any beer that could approach the finely made product that Brimmer supplies them.
I have been to Two Dogs, and yes, they have a very well chosen selection of good beers on tap. But they are quite a ways from becoming a brewery on their own.
Last week I went to Hops 125, a new craft beer restaurant in Ebisu. Hops 125 takes over the spot formerly occupied by the New Zealand wine bar Aotea Rangi. It might be the same owner since there are some dishes and wines from New Zealand on the menu. There are 16 craft beers on tap, equally divided between domestic and foreign brews. The beers are well-chosen and the food is generally good (though I was not a fan of the fish part of their fish and chips).
Hops 125 seems to be the same place as Aotea Rangi - they just changed the name. I was underwhelmed by the Japanese beer selection (beers from August and Kaigun-san no Bakushu made up most of the list).
Also, my pint of Brewdog cost me Y1470, although they didn't bother to display that price on the menu. (Pints are simply listed as Y1100~.)
I did find a flyer in their bathroom for a newly opened liquor shop called Night Owl where you can bring and fill up your own growler with various craft beers.
After Hops 125 I crossed the JR tracks and visited Bakushuan (http://bento.com/rev/4351.html ), which I think has a nicer selection of Japanese beers, as well as good sake.
BrewDog, the hyper-outgoing Scottish brewery, has opened their first pub in Tokyo in the middle of Roppongi. It's a great place with a wild selection of fairly extreme beers (on pre-opening night, there wasn't a lager in sight). They will be officially open in early March and you will find beers with a distinct hard-core edge. I particularly enjoyed the Hardcore IPA, which clocks in at 9.2% abv and 150 IBU. Certainly not for the faint at tastebud. Before going, check them out at www.brewdogbar.jp Overall, the tap selection is unbelievable and the bottled selection goes even beyond that.
15 year Tokyo resident and craft beer is my hobby. Brew Dog is possibly the most expensive craft beer bar in the country. 1250 for a pint of Punk IPA and many of their beers between 1500 and 2000 yen per pint. For me that is unjustifiable. Ushi Tora is another bar with prices towards the high end of the scale. Craft Beer Heads - the owner proprietor has to have the biggest chip on his shoulder of any bar owner in the industry. As a result many long-term craft beer hobbyists steer clear of that place. Good bars - there are dozens of them. A useful resource is the Japan Beer Times, a free magazine stocked by many craft beer bars. Just please don't reward too much the behaviour of the establishments listed above. As an aside, Yokohama has many excellent bars. Three top notch examples - Thrash Zone, Antenna America, The Full Monty. There are plenty of others.
Since I spend a lot of time in the US, I'm not very motivated to pay Tokyo prices for American beer. This pretty much automatically moves Ant 'n Bee to the top of my list--all 22 tap lines are Japanese craft beer, all the time.
Ushitora is great. Once, they tied up ten of the fifteen tap lines in the smaller bar with all ten (at the time) Mikkeller Single Hop IPAs. For a month! Says it all, really.
I'm very fond of Dry Dock. Passionate, knowledgeable staff. The longtime manager of Dry Dock opened his own place this year: Brasserie Beer Boulevard is in the high-numbered blocks of Shinbashi 5, south of the new tunnel.
Ibrew has a tiny branch in Shinbashi, with the same embarrassingly low prices (Y410 for a half!?) as the original. Also in Shinbashi, Shinshu Osake Mura, although primarily a nihonshu shop, usually has a couple of Nagano craft beers on tap, along with a wider selection of bottles. They're very cheap too.
Agreed about the sterility of the Nakameguro taproom. The New Haven pizza is a good hook, if a bit obscure.
Did Watering Hole/Tharsis Ridge ever get their brewing operation going? (Also, Tharsis Ridge has the Best Logo Ever.)
Craft Beer Market is opening a new location in Mitsukoshimae this week.
Goodbeer Faucets is another sterile room, but the tap system is amazing.
Two Dogs in Roppongi has given up on brewing their own. But their tap selection is good. They and Ant 'n Bee are open very late (5AM and 6 AM daily, respectively). Brew Dog closes at midnight. Somebody must not have gotten the memo about Roppongi.
Watering Hole has yet to start brewing. I am curious as to what "dribrats" thinks of Beer Club Popeye in Ryogoku and Beerhorn in Akasaka. Also, I never knew that Shinshu Osake Mura in Shimbashi had any craft beers on tap -- I recall it only being in bottles. Anyway, thanks to "dribrats" for the informative post, apparently the first. Also, I agree strongly with Robb S and will consider Brew Dog *because* they close at midnight.
Somewhat amazingly, I have never made the pilgrimage to Ryogoku. I understand it fills up, and somehow the idea of making a reservation to drink beer just rubs me the wrong way a bit. I really ought to go sometime.
I should also visit Beer Horn once, since I'm not familiar with Otaru's beer. In general I'm less likely to go out of my way for a place that pours only one brewery's beer. How is it?
Beer Horn, friendly staff. Not sure of they still do what was/is a decent nomihodai plan. Beers - just okay really. The competition is fierce these days and so is the standard of beer. Popeye - good introduction to many different breweries and the place is craft beer 101 in terms of the Japan scene. There are cheaper and arguably better options these days however.
One update - if you're looking for Ibrew in Shimbashi, they've just changed their name to Oyster Bar Bono. Eight Japanese craft beers on tap, priced at Y390 (+tax) for a 280ml serving. And oysters, although they still serve their mini-pizzas.
Also Brasserie Beer Boulevard is spelled "Blvd" in case anyone tries to search for it. (03-6435-9266)
Swan Lake Brewery of Niigata has opened a small and intimate pub in Yoyogi Uehara, about three minutes from the station. The food is moderately priced, and six varieties of their beer are on tap; 250 ml for 550 yen, 500 ml for 900 yen. There are four guest beers also available at higher prices; when I was there it was Minoh Italian Samurai (dark beer w/coffee), Shiga Kogen IPA, Imperial Stout from Hokkaido's North Island and one other I can't remember.
The phone number is 03-5738-7347.
They close early; 11 pm on weekdays, 10:30 pm on Sat, Sun and Holidays. Always closed on Tuesdays.
It's out of the way and pretty low key, making it great for the neighbourhood, but I wonder how long they will make it.
Thanks for starting this topic thread; a lot more interesting than the usual 'coming to Tokyo...' posts. Here's a few more craft beer bars to throw in the mix, yet to be mentioned, I think;
Biiru Senmon Miyazawa Shouten, Mon-Naka
Himalaya Table, Kanda
Cat & Cask, Kaname-cho, Toshima-ku
Brimmer Beer Box, Minami Aoyama
The Aldgate, Shibuya
Craft beer & nihonshu focused:
Craft Beer Pub Twelve, Kokuryo, Chofu
Kraft Work Dining, Ikebukuro
Off-licenses with drink-in bars (good for both craft beer and nihonshu, and also wine at the first two);
Bar Exit at Deguchi-ya, Higashiyama
Nibu, Sekibara, Adachi-ku
Suzuki Shuhan, Minowa
The Pint (Shin Maruko, Kawasaki City)
Craft Beer Bar (Naka-ku, Yokohama City)
una casa de gb gb El Nubichinom (Naka-ku, Yokohama City)
For those who can read Japanese, here's an excellent resource with many craft beer bar listings in the Kanto region; very detailed with excellent category splits to search.
Good drinking to all!
I went off looking for Saketeria in Tomigaya because I live in the next neighborhood over, and after a search, I found a place called Sake Bozu, which is mainly a sake bar, but they do carry craft beer. On their card there is the word "Sakeria" and they have a site address (sakebozu.com) which has their address, but no other information, not even the phone number (which is 03-3466-1311 on their card).
They only had one beer when I went, from Minoh Beer, called Italian Samurai, and was a joint brew with an Italian micro named Brewfist. The beer was a dark ale brewed with coffee and orange peel. Unusual, but it was quite tasty. The owner said they normally have about six kinds of beer.
After finishing that, and not wanting another, I switched to sake and had one from the Hakone area called Ryo, a bit sweet (+6) and made with Omachi rice from Okayama. Exactly what I wanted, as I described to the owner. Their sake menu has only the names in very stylized Japanese writing, and I could only read one of the six. I thought the service there was good, the guy running the place was nice and helpful. I live about 7 minutes away, and will go again.
Thanks, Den, for letting me know about Sakebozu Sakeria.
My pleasure and glad you made it there. Good to read your comments. My apologies for getting the name wrong. It seems 'Sakeria Sakebōzu' is correct (Sakeria 酒坊主), bōzu in reference to the master's similar appearance to that of a Buddhist priest (bald head)!
Too bad beer stocks were low when you went, but switching to nihonshu is never a hardship :)
I've only been once and recall drinking/eating very well. The non-descript building and subtle signage is all part of the fun of finding it (for me, completely by chance while walking en-route to another very good restaurant/izakaya, Harema, specialising in food/nihonshu from Fukui Prefecture. The quality/value/volume ratio (food) is hard to beat.
You did it again! I have gone by Harema many times since they opened (almost a year ago) and could never figure out what kind of food they did. The place before it in that location was a bog-standard Chuka place that, year in and year out, advertised "Mabo Nasu" and I always wondered how the cook managed to deal with seasonal fluctuations in the price of eggplant. Now I will have to give it a try!
About Sakebozu, it is certainly a great find. If I knew they only had one beer available, I would have started with nihonshu. I normally drink nihonshu first, followed by a finish with cold, hoppy beer.
At Sasagin in Uehara, my long-time favorite, the house beer is the nicely hoppy Edel Pils from Sapporo, and served directly from a chilled keg rather from a quick-chill serving system which results in beer with inferior taste.
Thanks again for the tip on Harema.
What a coincidence! I shall look forward to reading your comments about Harema. For a first-timer, my suggestion would be to arrive reasonably hungry and order the 3,800yen omakase course, giving you a choice of at least two main dish options towards the end of proceedings, and ask the owner (Nakahara-san) to pair the food with her nihonshu recommendations. As I was alone and wanted to try a good selection of nihonshu, she was very accommodating to my request to serve each drink as a smaller-than-standard pour. From memory, I left there about 6,000yen lighter and a very happy camper. Nakahara-san is a very down-to-earth chirpy/chatty sort without being overly intrusive. Harume's wine list is also a lot better than average.
Sasagin - now that takes me back many moons ago when I lived within spitting distance, circa 1996~2000. Narita-san deserves a medal for his endurance.