Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on April 2010
If James Bond’s preferred tipple was sake instead of vodka, he’d drink at Ginza Saka Bar. Down a narrow staircase off a street full of bars and restaurants in one of the less glitzy parts of Ginza, this discreet little drinking den has all the hallmarks of a secret agent’s haunt. Dim lights hang low over the tables, the conversation is muted, the decor is all dark wood and plain black surfaces, and the smoke from everyone’s cigarettes spirals up to the ceiling. I wouldn’t have been surprised if a man with a dueling scar and a Homburg had walked in while I was sampling the place. Pussy Galore would have been more welcome, mind you.
As its name suggests, Ginza Saka Bar is dedicated to sharing with its clientele a fine selection of sake and shochu, including some hard-to-find offerings. And it does so with panache. The tumblers, flutes and decanters are all Baccarat and Riedel cut glass, the staff are immaculately turned-out, and the counter is hewn out of a 500-year-old tree, burnished to a rich red-brown. Just the sort of place a connoisseur would choose to hone his palate.
As something of a sake novice, I had a quiet word with the bartender, who recommended a dry Kaishun from Shimane (¥700). Served with a rock of ice larger than a golf ball, the drink was a fantastic way to start the proceedings. A Seki junmai ginjo, from Nagano, will set you back ¥980, while shochu starts at ¥580. Try the 25 percent proof Washio, a snip at ¥880. Awamori ranges from ¥580 to ¥850, but I must confess that my favorite from the selection on offer was the yuzu sake, dreamed up by some genius in Saitama: cloudy, with a lingering tangy taste. Don’t bother putting that bottle back in the chiller just yet, barkeep.
Ginza Saka Bar has all the other concoctions that a drinker needs—but not at the exorbitant prices that one expects in this part of town. A highball goes for ¥500, and a 12-year-old Yamazaki just ¥950. Throw in the Armagnac and the 8 percent “puru-puru umeshu jelly,” and you’re laughing. Guaranteed. Dedicated beer fans need not fret, either: Sapporo (¥580), Heartland (¥750) and Guinness (¥850) are all available on tap.
With all that liquid sloshing around, nibbles are a must. The portions may be bite-sized, but this drinker was more than a little reassured by the fact that the dishes took a while to arrive—they’d obviously been freshly prepared. The negi salad (¥400) was little more than an appetite stimulant and I skipped the catfish liver (¥580), but the sardines in oil (¥780) were done perfectly. And don’t miss the ¥680 rolled omelets—a simple dish, but done perfectly. Mr. Bond would approve.