Recently while exchanging emails with a reader of my blog, we got on the topic of beer in Tokyo. My response was so long it only made sense to turn it into an entry. Although edited, I’ve tried to maintain the conversational tone to (perhaps) give you my most honest impressions. While no expert in brewing, I have spent considerable time in a number of beer bars in the Tokyo area. Hopefully these observations can steer your towards an enjoyable beer experience. And these are good bars to go to alone; in almost every case I’ve had some really nice conversations with the bartender, waitress, or complete strangers.
- Editor’s note #1: I labeled this post “best craft beer bars” because in the age of the internet, nobody will read anything if it isn’t the best, the worst, etc…I am certainly missing many good bars…this is mostly a list of places I’ve visited and enjoyed. One benefit of this post is I’ve included a few places outside of central Tokyo. There are plenty other lists of best craft beer in Tokyo – I suggest you read those too and try them all!
- Editor’s note #2: There are some great Tokyo beer blogs out there, including the encyclopedic Tokyo Beer Drinker
(1) If you enjoy beer, the cheapest place to sample lots of Japanese craft beer is Craft Beer Market in Toranomon and Jimbocho (but I haven’t been to that one). The atmosphere is very nice, the food is good, and the staff are great. My only complaint is they often are so busy I can’t get in without a reservation.
(2) Devilcraft in Kanda: Deep dish pizza, plus Japanese and foreign craft beer. Get there early or make reservations as it is often busy, even on Sunday nights.
- (2a) DevilCraft Kanda デビルクラフト 神田 (map)
- (2b) DevilCraft Hamamatsucho デビルクラフト 浜松町 (map)
- (2c) DevilCraft Gotanda デビルクラフト 五反田 (map)
(3) Also in Kanda, but mostly for locals is Jha Bar, a basement bar with jazz, smoke, and a variety of good beers on draft, plus lots of bottles, including Belgian beer. Their sister bar, (4) Cooper Ale’s, is in Shinbashi above or below a karaoke place and a Thai massage parlor. I love this place after work and kind of want to keep it secret. (Note: this is not the same as the nearby British pub “Coopers” in Shiodome City Center).
(5) Not far away, tucked under the JR tracks is the nautically-themed Shimbashi Dry Dock 新橋ドライドック.
(6) Baird Brewing Company (one of Japan’s first brewpubs) has taprooms in (a) Harajuku, (b) Nakameguro, and also in Yokohama.
(7) Also in Nakameguro, and with American BBQ is Hatos Bar. Very cool place, but mostly foreigners here, so you may not feel like you’re in Japan.
(9) In Ginza is Hachi Ban (Hachiban), a slightly hidden brewpub that makes a great weizen. All you can drink with food is 4000 yen.
(10) Also in Ginza is the very reasonably priced iBrew クラフトビアバル アイブリュー, a small place with maybe eight stools and some extra standing room. They also have good food, and it’s close to Tokyo Station, just a 5-minute walk from the east exit (Yaesu 八重洲).
(If you’re roaming the city and need a quick beer, The Hub chain of “British” pubs are decent, fairly cheap, and usually lively. Mostly a Japanese crowd except at the Roppongi branches.)
(12) I’ve only been here only for lunch, but Roti in Roppongi recently has had good American craft beer on tap. Their website looks pretentious, but cut them some slack…they’re trying to impress the expat businessmen. This is a decent place for an after work beer and has outdoor seating.
(13) Shibuya can be overwhelming, so I sometimes escape to The Aldgate, a British pub with a 40/60 mix of locals and foreigners. It’s usually a low key vibe and I’ve had some great conversations with strangers here.
(16) If you’re up in Ikebukuro, Beersaurus is decent. I made a good friend at the bar there. A quick subway ride will take you to (17) Cat & Cask, a unique English pub feel with a mostly Japanese clientele, run by a Brit and his Japanese wife. I’ve been three times and love it, but it can be a bit quiet for a tourist.
(18) I almost forgot about TY Harbor, the unique beer and BBQ establishment beautifully situated on the canals of Shinagawa. One of the only restaurants on Tokyo with legitimate water views. A 15-minute walk from Shinagawa station, but closer to the Tennozu Isle Station on the Tokyo Monorail and Rinkai Lines. Very nice on a sunny day for lunch or a warm evening.
And if you’re in the mood for Belgian beer, the Delirium bars (in Asakusa Biz Tower, Kasumigaseki, and somewhere else I haven’t been) are a little expensive but have a great Belgian draft selection. I also found the bartenders in Kasumigaseki knowledgeable and friendly – it’s a good place to grab lunch but a little dead at night, especially weekends.
Last, while no craft beer Mecca, the hotel bar at the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku (the “Peak Bar” serves Japan’s Sankt Gallen at 1300 yen. Slightly steep, but the view from the bar at night is worth it (this is the bar at the top of the first elevator; in my opinion there’s no need to continue up to the New York Grill, which I think has a cover charge and which has a dress code. (However, I did have brunch there once and it was spectacular.)
(19) The Grafton: Very local pub not far from Gotanda station. I don’t think I’ve seen any foreigners here in my four visits.
(20) Beer Club Popeye / Kitchen Popeye ポパイの台所: I was stupid and forgot to include this classic in the first version of my post. 70 beers on tap, good food. A Tokyo standard-bearer for craft beer. Just don’t count on getting a table. Very popular every time I’ve been.
(21) ビアパブイシイ Beer Pub-ishii (tabelog). Small, but clean and bright, this bar is located on Snake Street in Yanaka, a quiet and meandering shopping street not far from Nishi-nippori station. The two times I’ve visited it had the feel of a true neighborhood bar: customers chatting with the bartender or with each other; some customers were women stopping in by themselves after work for a beer or glass of wine. Just a good vibe here:
Not quite central Tokyo:
For a fun afternoon I suggest checking out the two brewpubs on the Chuo Line that I’ve reviewed, (30) Beer Dojo Asagaya and (31) Koenji Beer Workship. Koenji is a funky neighborhood that makes for a nice afternoon of window shopping and backstreet exploring. Asagaya is a neat place too, and I understand there are a number of jazz bars and other performance spaces.
(32) Ushi-tora ビアバー うしとら is also great, and will bring you to the vibrant neighborhood of Shimokitazawa, easily accessible from Shibuya. There are two Ushi-tora’s, separated by a restaurant between them. One is a standing bar and one more of a restaurant/bar. They have a great selection and have an English menu, but aren’t overrun by foreigners.
[Update: closed / out of business] > (33) Craft Beer & Whisky Bar Transit クラフトビア＆ウィスキーバー トランジット in Hatanodai is very local…the type of place where, when you enter, everyone turns around and looks at the door. Don’t let that scare you. I’ve been a few times with my very limited Japanese and have had a good time. It’s probably better to go by yourself and you’ll be more likely to make friends.
[Update: closed / out of business] > I met the owner/brewer of Brewpub Pangea at Beer Bar Transit, where he taught me the Japanese phrase minna shiawase みんな幸せ – everybody happy. This was a local place in the quiet neighborhood near Senzoku station. I vividly remember the turnip beer. It tasted like turnips. Update: it seems that Pangea has gone out of business; also, there used to be a detailed write-up on “Beer in Japan”, but that post seems to have been removed.
[UPDATE >>> I’m pretty sure this has moved or has closed ]>>> (8) And also near Harajuku is Brimmer Beer Box, a tiny shipping crate on a busy street in Omotesando that sells Kanagawa’s own Brimmer Beer on tap for 500 yen; take advantage of Tokyo’s open container laws and have one for the road!
Outside & near Tokyo:
(40) Just across the Tamagawa from Tokyo is the bedroom city of Shinmaruko / Musashikosugi. Beer Bar the Pint ビアバー ザパイント is an oasis outside of central Tokyo.
(41) A little further south in Yokohama are a number of good beer bars. I’ve enjoyed my visits to the Bashimachi Taproom, with its Baird beers and American BBQ. They also have jazz events on some or all Sundays.
Keep south on the Tokaido Line and you reach Fujisawa, which is the gateway to beaches of Enoshima. Close to Fujisawa station is (42) Mokichi Craft Beer モキチクラフトビア, a nice restaurant with a beautifully rustic décor, which serves Shonan Beer from Kumazawa Brewing Company 熊澤酒造. If you have a little more time, head down to Chigasaki, then head north a few stops to Kagawa, where the Kumazawa Brewing Company is located. This gorgeous campus houses a bakery, art gallery, and restaurant, the (43) Mokichi Trattoria トラットリア・モキチ, which has an extensive menu, including handmade sausage. English menu is available.
[Update: closed / out of business]: from what I understand, due to renovation/demolition of the building, The Living Room is currently closed/out of business. Here is what I originally wrote:
I have to put in a word for my friend who opened The Living Room in Kasukabe, Saitama. This is a very neat space, with a turntable and local artwork on the walls, plus a bowling alley upstairs. Kasukabe is about 50 minutes north of Ueno, and is conveniently located on the Tobu line on the way to/from Nikko.
Where to begin?
With so many options, where does one start? If you live in Tokyo, never fear…just try them all. If you’re only in town for a few days, and especially if you don’t speak Japanese, you’re probably best off with Devilcraft or the Baird taprooms, as they get a steady stream of foreigners. I also suggest Ushi-tora, as it will bring you out to the interesting Shimokitazawa neighborhood. In any event, I think you’ll be happy with most, if not all, of these establishments.