Going out for breakfast always feels like a special treat. It’s the kind of ritual usually reserved for vacations or ambitious weekends — a gleeful extravagance of time. When I lived in San Francisco during my 20s and free time was abundant, my friends and I convened regularly at breakfast joints with names like “Mama’s” for eggs Florentine or huevos rancheros — and multiple rounds of bloody marys — on our days off.
After moving to Tokyo, I fell out of the habit. Life became too hectic, and scheduling breakfast with friends seemed like a frivolous endeavor. But, like a lot of people, I’m finding myself with time to spare these days, and I’ve discovered three new cafe-bar hybrids in Tokyo that have reignited my excitement for the most important meal of the day, with an enticing combination of tasty breakfast specials, excellent coffee and intoxicating options beyond the mannerly mimosa.
The Bellwood, the younger sibling of The SG Club in Shibuya, is bartender Atsushi Suzuki’s vision of a modern kissaten (Japanese-style coffee shop). Modeled after a Taisho Era (1912-26) coffeehouse, the dark wood interior features retro touches like a stained-glass panel bearing the bar’s name, bookended by images of Mount Fuji and a martini under the moon.
During the day, The Bellwood functions primarily as a cafe, serving coffee sourced from Brazil and Kenya, as well as breakfast from 9 to 11:30 a.m. and lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The breakfast options are clever riffs on the “morning service” platters found at traditional Japanese coffee shops: There’s toast topped with Thai-spiced shrimp and coriander (¥760) and adzuki bean jam and nattō (fermented soybean) butter sandwiched between slices of milk bread (¥650), but my personal favorite is the truffle egg-salad sandwich with balsamic vinegar mayonnaise (¥900). The Tango Mule (¥1,400) — a sassy blend of Bombay Sapphire gin, lemongrass and ginger — and the fruity, amethyst-hued Mogarita (¥1,400), made with tequila and a splash of elderflower water, are both pleasingly light and refreshing accompaniments.
Then there’s the brand-new outpost of Tokyo Aleworks, nestled under the train tracks beneath Yurakucho Station. It opens at 8 a.m. and offers breakfast until 11 a.m., serving freshly ground coffee prepared by barista Yuya Kosakada to go with hearty portions of eggs Benedict (¥1,200) and fluffy breakfast-pretzel platters (¥800). Should you care for something stronger, the staff are happy to pour a pint (or half-pint) from one of the 14 rotating beer taps.
Tokyo Aleworks Cold-brewed Coffee Ale (¥1,100) is a surprising alternative to a cup of joe. Brewed with five different malts, four kinds of hops and with even more oomph imparted from coffee beans, it combines the flavor of coffee with the texture of seltzer. While the antemeridian hours may be too early to contemplate having whisky (even for an inveterate day-drinker like me), hearing that there’s Glenmorangie and Talisker highballs (¥1,100) on tap nevertheless elicits a squeal of delight and inspires a return visit for cheeseburgers and cocktails.
Blue Bottle Coffee, one of the pioneers behind the third-wave coffee movement, is also venturing into the realm of craft cocktails with a new line of coffee-based tipples, available exclusively (and all day!) at its Hiroo branch inside the Eat Play Works complex. Developed by bartender Fumitake Ohba — formerly of Code Name Mixology Akasaka and Florilege, now at The Bellwood — the drinks highlight various aspects of coffee’s flavor profile, from fruity and tangy to smoky and robust.
I’m partial to the NOLA Negroni (¥1,200), but the sweet Coffee Cherry Gin and Tonic (¥900) — Monkey 47 gin mixed with cascara syrup made from the flesh of the coffee cherry — or the zippy Sansho Sour (¥1,200), a foamy vodka-based cocktail spiked with a shot of espresso and Japanese pepper, are more suitable accompaniments to the morning menu of light cafe fare.
With so many great options, it’s high time to resurrect the tradition of boozy breakfasts with friends. A morning meal cooked to order, enjoyed with an expertly crafted cocktail and good company, is an extravagance we all deserve every once in a while.