Eat This Drink That: Bar High Five

March 28, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Tables for larger groups, overlooking Ginza's lightsTables at Bar High FiveTables for larger groups, overlooking Ginza's lights

There are lots of bars in the world, and then there's Bar High Five. In a small, dimly lit room off a Ginza street, Hidetsugu Ueno, the Bar's owner and founder, serves up a number of well-known cocktails. Most of the speakeasy's beverages are classics, with the addition of several innovative cocktails crafted over a long history of experimentation and tasting by Ueno and his fellow staff. If you're lucky, you'll find yourself with an open seat amid the quiet company of other patrons and the sounds of Ueno carving away at an ice diamond. If you're unlucky, well, try again next time. No parties larger than four. Keep in mind, there are also a set of rules, and the staff will not hesitate to kick you out if you're being disrespectful.

 

No menus either. You order based on your flavor preferences, and the bartender will recommend a drink from the information you provide. What base would you like? Something light and refreshing, or dark and complex? Maybe something smokier than sweeter? On my first visit, a friend asked for something sweet and refreshing, to which Ueno suggested a strawberry cocktail; strawberries were in season. Minutes later: voila. A delicious gin-based mix, crafted and served as if it were just another classic cocktail practiced a thousand times over. Except, it didn't have a name. Ueno just made it.

The former building front of Bar High Five, on a quiet corner in luxurious GinzaFormer Bar High Five EntranceThe former building front of Bar High Five, on a quiet corner in luxurious Ginza Handmade strawberry cocktail crafted by Hidetsugu Ueno, because strawberries were in season and we wanted something light and sweetStrawberry CocktailHandmade strawberry cocktail crafted by Hidetsugu Ueno, because strawberries were in season and we wanted something light and sweet

You may also just tell the staff what you want if you already know it, then compare how they mix it and see if it meets or exceeds your expectations. It's an interesting adventure. Feel free to ask how their version might be different from the "standard" cocktails that you've had. The rabbit hole is deep. Many people come to try Ueno's signature White Lady. Just don't ask for a Rum 'n' Coke or a Sake Bomb.

Bar High Five logo with SBG backdrop, a tribute to Star Bar GinzaBar High Five LogoBar High Five logo with SBG backdrop, a tribute to Star Bar Ginza

I spent a good portion of a Saturday night enjoying the atmosphere, getting to know the staff. Ueno was born in Sapporo, but at some point found himself in Seattle where he fell in love with American beef -- Peter Luger's, House of Prime Rib, and of course, In-N-Out. He originally worked with the renowned Hisashi Kishi at Star Bar Ginza before moving on to start High Five. Now, he pays homage to his past with the logo of his bar: a subtle "SBG" in cursive script behind "Bar High Five". Ueno has since won many awards and honors in cocktail contests for several spirits, including gin, whiskey, and rum. His head bartender, Kaori Kurakami, is a force to be reckoned with as well. Bartending at Ueno's side for many years now, she is a master at throwing Sherry, a certified venenciador. She has her own roster of custom-made cocktails too. While she's still working on her conversational English, feel free to help her practice a bit!

 

Since I last visited over two years ago, Bar High Five has move into a larger venue. Still in Ginza, but it fits slightly more while preserving its original style and demeanor. You can bet I'll be there the next time I'm around. If you're ever in Tokyo, give it a try. They say it's one of the best bars in the world, and I don't doubt that.

Nothing much. Just sneaking in a casual cool glance as I photograph the barHidetsugu UenoNothing much. Just sneaking in a casual cool glance as I photograph the bar


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