T and I have social media to thank for discovering High Five Bar in Tokyo, owned by the world renowned bartender Hidetsugu Ueno. Given that T and I are huge fans of Brendan Sodikoff's restaurants in Chicago (Bavettes Bar and Boeuf, Maude's Liquor Bar, Gilt Bar), we trust the taste of Chicago's known restaurateur. In an interview with him on Eater Chicago, Sodikoff mentions High Five Bar as one of his favorite bars in Tokyo and even going so far as to naming his upcoming ramen joint in Chicago after this bar. Another random time as I browse my Twitter feed, I see a tweet from Grant Achatz (of Chicago's Alinea and Next) that he is at High Five Bar during his trip there. A quick online search reveals the bar's reputation.
Ueno-san, the renowned bartender and owner of High Five Bar has created himself a little hideout on the 4th floor of a business building. The counter at the bar seats only 8 people and the 2 tables at the side can tightly accommodate about 6 more people. Halfway through the night, a few Japanese opened the door to the bar only to be politely and apologetically turned away because unfortunately there really is no open seats to accommodate them.
Though he takes his craft seriously, he does not take himself too seriously. There are energetic and boisterous laughter from him all night. With his highly styled hair and suspenders, Ueno-san is extremely approachable and humble. One would not have guessed that he is one of the top men in his field.
There is no menu here. Assisted by two employees, they ask guests what type of drinks he or she likes: Refreshing? Smokey? Whiskey? Vodka? Then, Ueno-san goes on to create the drink. His technique is precise and methodical. We both order a Scotch cocktail but each of our cocktails is prepared differently- mine has cherry blossom liqueur added to the drink and each sip has a nice lingering taste which I like very much; Tim's drink is a little more "masculine", for the lack of a better word. After our first cocktail, we order whiskey on the rocks and according to Ueno-san, in his 23 years of bartending, we are one of the 100 guests who have ordered just whiskey alone. Speaking perfect English, he explains the unique Japanese whiskeys on the shelf, the different types and breweries. Take Asama whiskey, for example. It's made in Japan but due to some contractual rules, this whiskey is only sold outside of Japan and then renamed Asama. He tells us that his bottle of Asama on the shelf is bought from London.
Everything Ueno-san is for a reason. Throughout the night, we see several cocktails made with a metal shaker except for when he is making a cocktail with fresh kiwi juice and using a plastic shaker. I ask curiously the reason for him switching to a plastic shaker for this particular drink. He laughs and and cheekily says, "Because I have no money" to buy more metal shakers. And then, getting a bit more serious in his craft, he replies that when shaking the juice, the key is not to dilute it but just chill it. Metal shakers are hard enough that through vigorous shaking, it can cause small chips to break off from the ice which can then dilute the juice.
At one point, we tell him, "You're very famous." He replies, "In a good or bad way?", and then laughs. We tell him that he is mentioned in Twitter. He says that he has a Facebook account though he does not go on there often. There are over a thousand friend requests but he does not know those people. Ahhh, we told you your'e famous.
High Five Bar
Ginza 7-2-14, No.26 Polestar Building, 4th Floor