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Cooling it down with Tokyo’s best

by Nicholas Coldicott

“Go around the beaches and let’s have a list of the best seaside bars,” said my editor. In this heat? Not a chance. But here’s something better: five refreshing cocktail recipes from a quintet of great bartenders. Each of these invigorating drinks was designed to zap your summer indolence and clear the sweat from your brow. As they say, alcohol can’t solve all life’s problems — but it can sure sort out some of them.

Kanon (Sound of Summer)
Kazuya Watanabe, Keio Plaza Hotel/Japan Hotel Bartenders Association president

Watanabe may be one of Japan’s most common surnames, but when I talk to bartenders about a Watanabe-san, most of them know who I mean. More than once I’ve heard him described as the finest bartender in the country. Sadly, Watanabe rarely tends bar these days, focusing instead on training the crew in Shinjuku’s Keio Plaza Hotel. So perhaps it’s appropriate that he chose a recipe devised by one of his proteges. Kanon (pictured far right) is an incredible drink that teases your tongue with sweetness then jabs it with a sour kick.

30 ml Tanquerey No. 10 gin
10 ml green apple liqueur
20 ml fresh grapefruit juice
1 tsp passion fruit syrup

Shake vigorously with ice and pour into a cocktail glass.

Polestar, 45F Keio Plaza Hotel, 2-2-1 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku; (03) 3344 0111; www.keioplaza.com/restaurants/skybar.html

Suica cocktail (Watermelon cocktail)
Takashi Makishima, Maruume

“When I think of summer, I think watermelon and vodka,” says Makishima, head bartender of the ever-so-stylish Tamagawa branch of Kyoto’s Maruume bar. “I used to eat watermelon as a kid, so this is a nostalgic taste.” The salt rim reflects a Japanese habit of eating watermelon with salt. It’s a beautiful, light and refreshing drink; a perfect summer pick-me-up.

30 ml Grey Goose vodka
60 ml cranberry juice
15 ml creme de melon
Fresh watermelon

Mash the watermelon into pulp, add the remaining ingredients and shake well. Pour into a salt-rimmed tulip glass.

Maruume, 3-11-4 Tamagawa, Setagaya Ward, Tokyo; (03) 5716-9981; www.maruume.info

Ougon no Tsuki (Golden Moon)
Koji Ozaki, Radio Bar

One of Japan’s best-known bartenders, Ozaki has created hundreds of recipes in his half-century behind the bar, and his custard-yellow creation for Liquid Culture is a zinger. Using egg yolk for a power boost and a liberal helping of lemon juice for a refreshing nose, Ougon no Tsuki is not nearly as noggy as it looks on paper. Ozaki says he was inspired by the upcoming moon-viewing festival (Aug. 15).

45 ml dry gin
30 ml lemon juice
2 tsp sugar
1 egg yolk

Blend ingredients thoroughly and pour into a round-bottomed cocktail glass. Though the lemon juice helps to break down the yolk’s viscosity, it’s never easy to shake an egg cocktail well. If you’re making a golden moon at home, Ozaki suggests whisking the ingredients in a bowl.

Radio, 3-10-34 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo; (03) 3402-2668; www.bar-radio.com

Pink Cloud
Yoshinori Furusho, Weekends Tokyo

The sofa was what first drew me in — a canvas two-seater plonked on the pavement just outside the tiny bar in Mita, Tokyo — but the drink selection is what keeps me coming back. Weekends Tokyo (it originally opened only on weekends) has some unorthodox items — Hussong’s tequila, Mickey’s “big mouth” malt-liquor beers, a fig liqueur — and though I suspect most customers order beer or Scotch, Furusho was keen to concoct something more inventive. His frothy, electric-pink drink is easy on the alcohol and, like Watanabe’s Kanon, has waves of sweet and sour.

15 ml vodka
20 ml cassis liqueur
10 ml raspberry liqueur
90 ml milk

Shake the vodka, milk, raspberry liqueur and 10 ml of cassis with ice. Pour over ice into a lowball glass and swirl the remaining cassis over the top for a marble effect.

Weekends Tokyo, 5-16-14 Mita, Minato-ku, Tokyo; (03) 3447-7580

Macedonia
Yasuyo Kawaguchi, Peak Bar, Park Hyatt Tokyo

Named after the fruit salad, not the Balkan republic, the Macedonia is so loaded with fruit that even your doc would approve. The Peak Bar’s Kawaguchi says it’s indulgent yet easy to make at home. “You can use whatever fruits are available in your home,” she suggests, and when watermelons are out of season, any sweet fruit will work just as well.

30 ml Grey Goose vodka
30 ml cranberry juice
30 ml orange juice
30 ml peach puree
3 slices orange
1/16 watermelon

Dice watermelon into 1-cm cubes and place in a tall glass with the orange slices. Mix the remaining ingredients in a cocktail shaker and pour into a tall glass. Add crushed ice and stir gently. If you don’t have crushed ice, chill the ingredients in your fridge instead.

Peak Bar, 41F Park Hyatt Tokyo, 3-7-1-2 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo; (03) 5323-3461; tokyo.park.hyatt.com