Beer and burgers; burgers with beer. Either way, that’s a killer combination, especially when the bar in question features 12 taps of premium microbrews. Factor in a funky little building at the heart of one of Tokyo’s classic carousing districts, and you know already the new Mikkeller Kanda is going to be great.

It’s been three years since the hugely popular Mikkeller flagship bar opened on Shibuya’s love hotel hill, adding its range of distinctive brews to Tokyo’s burgeoning craft beer scene. Now it has a new sister operation on the other side of the city that’s smaller in scale but boasts plenty of character of its own.

Just spitting distance from Kanda Station, it’s a compact, three-story structure set back in a quiet enclave that’s isolated from the brash surrounding nightlife action. Hamilton Shields, Mikkeller’s partner in Japan, says he hadn’t been actively looking to open a second bar, but once he saw the location he knew he had to go for it.

He also realized this was his opportunity to tackle another project he’d been mulling: offering quality burgers to match the beers. So he had the ground floor of Mikkeller Kanda fitted out as a small burger counter that stays open from lunch through dinner for both eat-in and takeout dining. The two upper floors are designated as the bar area, which you access by a steep flight of stairs that can feel perilous on your way down after a number of high-octane pints.

Distinctive: With a burger counter on the first floor and the bar above, Mikkeller Kanda has plenty of character. | ROBBIE SWINNERTON
Distinctive: With a burger counter on the first floor and the bar above, Mikkeller Kanda has plenty of character. | ROBBIE SWINNERTON

Shields developed the burgers along with chef-manager Shiho Inuma, who’s been running the kitchen in Shibuya until now. Together, they visited several dozen rival joints around the city to hone their ideas and put together what they see as their “ultimate” beer bar cheeseburger (¥880).

The patties are all prepared in-house, using Japanese beef that’s ground daily as needed. They’re firm and flavorful, browned on the outside but with just enough moist meat inside. Served as a set menu with fries and coleslaw “salad” on the side (for an extra ¥300), this is a highly satisfying bite, whether or not you’re drinking.

Also on the menu is a triple (¥1,400); sliders (¥1,200); and even a weekly special (¥950) based on recipes by guest chefs. And then there’s the veggie (¥880). Strictly speaking it’s a deep-fried croquette rather than a burger, prepared from a mix of vegetables and beans (black beans and chickpeas). The excellent texture and flavor make it one of the best veggie alternatives in Tokyo.

Since Mikkeller Kanda opened on June 15, business has been better than Shields expected in the current coronavirus climate. Quite a number of people have told him they knew of Mikkeller beers but were loath to head across town, least of all to Shibuya. Now there’s a viable alternative, and that’s definitely worth a toast.

There is one shadow on this particular horizon, though. The old building is slated for demolition, possibly in just three years. But impermanence is always in the air in Tokyo. “We’re treating this like a pop-up,” Shields says, “much like the ones we did before moving to Shibuya. The difference here is that this one is actually legal.”

Burgers from ¥880, fries from ¥600, beer from ¥650; English menu; English spoken

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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