August 14, 2009
Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on August 2009
Our first impression upon entering Bar Valley was that it would be an attractive refuge on a winter’s night: a place for one last fortifying drink before setting out on the cold journey home. With low, modular, black leather seating, moody lights and a jazzy ambient soundtrack, this late-night haven has the kind of timeless quality that we like to see in bars: namely, that quality of never making you feel like it’s time to go home. Tucked away on a back street in the Omotesando-Aoyama-Shibuya triangle, Bar Valley is immune to the ebb and flow of happy hours and dashes for last trains, the noise level never rising above a low murmur.
Upon taking up residence near the intriguing, glass-encased gas fireplace, we were promptly handed steaming oshibori towels. The black-suited waiter then brought us a complimentary tipple of rich walnut liquor and small bowls of the nut itself. Walnut, we later learned, was also the name of the wood used for the solid, under-lit counter bar and the table at our knees.
A quick glance at the menu showed Bar Valley to be, at heart, a wine bar. Choices start from house wine by the glass (two or three selections changing daily, from ¥800), run through a handful of mid-priced bottles, and go all the way up to the likes of Château Mouton Rothschild for ¥85,000. The food menu, which includes pastas, assorted meats and cheeses, olives, and chocolate, was clearly designed to complement this selection.
As we weighed these appetizing options, we remembered that it wasn’t actually winter—in fact, it was probably still at least 30C outside—and decided to go for some cooling cocktails instead. In addition to a menu of classic mixes, Bar Valley offers seasonal fresh fruit cocktails made to order. Choose your favorite fruit from the bowl on the counter or your preferred alcohol base, and the practiced staff will create a bespoke drink for you (¥1,200-¥1,600).
We decided to leave the tough decisions to the bartender instead, which earned us a “Water Jewel”—vodka, fresh watermelon, cranberry juice and a dash of Calpis served in a salt-rimmed champagne flute—and a frozen cocktail blending fresh mango juice, white rum, yogurt liquor and mango syrup. Both tasted non-alcoholic, but were delicious all the same.
Feeling on a roll, we went for another omakase round, this time receiving a “Sakura Mochi”—an oddly tart, dusky-pink concoction of Polish vodka, cherry liquor and gum syrup—and, as if to balance out the oddness of that one, a classic mojito. This second round convinced us that Bar Valley’s bartenders can produce some pretty solid, even sophisticated, cocktails.
When we finally gathered the momentum to leave (helped, no doubt, by our lightened wallets), we felt relieved of the manic nighttime energy that we had picked up on the way there. Even, perhaps, like we had regained a little dignity.