America’s Japanese bar boom is here, and it’s here to stay.
Japan is one of the world’s great drinking destinations, boasting a long history of impeccable sakes and whiskeys and an incredibly diverse bar culture, including Tokyo’s Ginza bars. These hidden cocktail temples pioneered techniques of hand-cut ice and were among the first to treat the simple act of mixing drinks with the dignity of a sacred tea ceremony.
It was also their influence that spurred much of the American mixology renaissance in the 2000s. Today, nearly every major U.S. city has a Ginza-inspired cocktail bar. And a new wave of Japanese-American outposts is loosening things up a bit, drawing on a broader range of influences from the island nation.
“The settings are more care-free,” says Masahiro Urushido of New York’s Katana Kitten. “No pretensions. You don’t need reservations; just walk in.”
The new bars are inspired by everything from native spirits like aromatic shochu to unique bar formats like kissaten, or “listening cafes,” with high-end audio setups. Here are a few of our favorite picks.