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.