An evening at Lamp Bar starts much like one at any other cocktail bar in Japan. After a walk from JR Nara Station down a shōtengai (shopping street) lined with convenience stores and souvenir shops, a turn onto a dimly lit sidestreet and a moment scanning the facade of an unremarkable building for the right sign out front, you enter.

From that point on, however, Lamp Bar all but guarantees a night of world-class cocktails imitated by one or two spots in nearby Osaka and Kyoto, rivaled by a scant handful in Tokyo — and positively unparalleled here in Nara.

I’m lucky enough to arrive just after 8 p.m. on a Wednesday in mid-December; across Lamp Bar’s softly lit interior, only five customers dot the dozen-plus counter and booth seats. Still, I’m asked to wait in a vestibule until I’m shown a seat: Several customers are donning jackets and heading for the door, and owner-bartender Michito Kaneko would rather not see a patron off with divided attention.