Bar Breadline

Bar Breadline

Head out to the 'burbs for a taste of absinthe heaven


Originally published on on May 2009

Photos by Alfie Goodrich

Photos by Alfie Goodrich

“I’m running out of space for all of this stuff,” says the bartender, shaking his head as he tries to find a home for a bottle of Bruichladdich 16-year-old Cuvée A. He ends up sitting it on the bar, which is already crowded with gins, bourbons and a leg of Serrano ham that’s been carved practically to the bone. Behind him, shelves stacked two-deep with liquor bottles tower up to the ceiling.

The sign outside said that Bar Breadline stocked 850 different varieties of alcohol, but the bartender admits that the figure’s a bit out of date now. “These days, it’s more like a thousand.”

Well, you need something to drag the punters all the way out to Hasune, a drab suburb in the northeast corner of Tokyo. The regulars at Bar Breadline may all be locals, but it isn’t unusual for people to make the journey from farther afield. When we admit that we’ve come all the way from Koenji, the bartender nods sagely. “For the absinthe, right?”

Indeed. The preferred tipple of Vincent Van Gogh and Oscar Wilde is available in abundance here. We count 30-odd bottles on display, many of them hard-to-find varieties that aren’t even available in shops in Japan (Breadline does a lot of its shopping online). When asked for a recommendation, the bartender dithers, then sheepishly presents four different options. “I can provide half-shots if it helps,” he offers.

We accept, and end up sampling a fair few, including the smooth, crystal-clear Absinthe du Haut Vallon (53 percent alcohol) and the lurid green Absinthe N.S. (70 percent), a real tongue-number of a tipple. The biggest surprise is the Mansinthe (66.6 percent), which was developed in cooperation with American schlock rocker Marilyn Manson but turns out to be eminently quaffable.

While it’s customary in Metropolis reviews to itemize how much everything costs, at Breadline things are a bit hazy. The Japanese and English menus list different prices—apparently because the latter includes the bar’s 10 percent service charge, but even then the numbers don’t seem to add up. Each of the bottles on offer is priced differently anyway, meaning that your best bet might be to sneak a glance at the tiny stickers affixed to the back of each one before you inadvertently blow ¥3,500 on a glass of 1933 Absinthe Isolabella.

Mind you, the prices—insofar as we can actually work them out—seem to be reasonable enough, with shots of Scotch and bourbon starting at ¥693 and single malts from ¥809. As is often the way with these suburban watering holes, there are some real bargains to be found, like Ballantines 30-year-old for ¥2,515 a glass. The bartender admits that he shifts more beer (¥1,040 for a pint of Bass) and gin & tonics (¥809), mind you—and that’s exactly what the regular crowd order as they start filtering in at around 10pm. After all, you can’t dance with the Green Fairy every night, can you?breadline-interior02