Welcome To The Capital Of Cocktails

From Foie-Gras Vodka To Blue-Cheese Cognac, One Tokyo Mixologist Is Creating Quite A Stir
Shuzo Nagumo has made a name for himself as Tokyo’s only self-titled "Grand Mixologist."
Shuzo Nagumo
Grand Mixologist, Owner Mixology Laboratory

Shuzo Nagumo is equal parts chef, chemist, and cocktailer. He's made a name for himself as a grand mixologist, who takes the essence of food flavors, and infuses them into spirits with astoundingly original results. There's his foie-gras vodka martini, and the gorgonzola cognac; his playful twist on a Tom Collins, the Tom Yum Cooler, looks like a mojito, but tastes like the tangy spicy-sour Thai soup.

"Traditional cocktail making is the art of instantaneousness, whereas mixology requires extra time and effort to create and develop unusual tastes in drinks," he says.

Nagumo achieves unexpected results by trying different flavor combinations in his cocktails.
In The Mix
An Experiment In Flavor

He likens his methods to that of a chef. "Stewing, smoking, aging, and preparation. Just as in cooking, mixology takes a variety of processes to get the flavors just right," he says.

There is much that goes into Nagumo's mixology, including imagination and inspiration. And there is technical wizardry behind each of his creations. He uses a vacuum distiller, or a centrifugal separator to extract only the essence of each ingredient. "This way you enjoy the flavor and scent, while not being disturbed by the texture," he explains.

Nagumo re-imagines cocktails by extracting flavors from different foods, and adding them to spirits, like vodka, gin, and cognac.
Tippling Points
The Boozy Revolution Begins

Nagumo began infusing spirits with different essences using high-tech culinary equipment, techniques he learned working in the kitchen at London’s Nobu Restaurant. Then he'd blend the distilled flavors into alcohols like vodka, gin, and cognac.

"When I first started, I didn't think Tokyo was ready for mixology, but I knew if I pursued what I believed was tasty and interesting, eventually people would follow."

And follow they did. Nagumo almost single-handedly created a cocktail revolution in Japan’s capital city with his original outpost, Codename Mixology, opened in 2009. Since then he’s added four more cocktaileries to his empire, from Roppongi to Ginza, and Akasaka.

One of Nagumo's outposts, The Bar Codename Mixology Akasaka, introduces guests to Japanese tea-infused cocktails.
Curious Pairings
The Essence Of Taste

Not one to rest on his laurels, Nagumo is already cooking up his next big ideas. At Codename Mixology Salon in Ginza Six, he has begun introducing patrons to Japanese tea-infused cocktails, an area he thinks warrants further exploration.

Then there's his idea for a "theme park of spirits.” In this adult playground,he envisions small tastings from a selection of hundreds of spirits that will arouse curiosity in patrons by showing how spirits are distilled, and how many varieties are out there. After all, says Nagumo, “It is part of the Japanese soul to pursue the essence of taste."

Local Recommendations

A Tour Of Japan's Capital City Sure To Stimulate The Senses

“Tokyo is a special place, where rich culture, art, and history flourish. The city has the potential to fulfill whatever a traveler seeks, and on the finest level imaginable." This is the true charm of Tokyo, according to Shuzo Nagumo. Here, the city's king of cocktails shares his recipe for a perfect tour of Tokyo that is anything but typical.

Tea Spots

Where To Taste Local Brews

A fascination with tea and its endless varieties led Shuzo Nagumo to open a concept bar devoted to cha-infused drinks. And since then, he's been on a quest for new teahouses and specialty shops to explore. "Japanese tea consists of hundreds of varieties, brands, and forms, and there are so many places in Tokyo to explore its depth,” he says. “Ginza has a number of established teahouses that have been around for decades." Sabo Nonohana (3-7-21 Ginza, Chuo; +81-3-5250-9025), is a great place to start. Originally a flower shop, the serene tearoom off the main Chuo Dori high street offers a bit of urban respite away from the hectic shopping district. Higashiya Ginza (1-7-7 Ginza, Chuo; +81-3-3538-3230) on the second floor of the mixed-use Pola Ginza Building, has an afternoon tea, Japanese style, that matches its stunning surroundings. The contemporary salon has a selection of more than 30 varieties of green tea, and pairs them with a selection of seasonal wagashi, traditional Japanese confections. Another modern teahouse, Cha Ginza (5-5-6 Ginza, Chuo; +81-3-3571-1211), is the place to experience made-to-order matcha. Enter the sleek, contemporary space, where a tea master will mix the bright, green tea to just the right consistency using a bamboo whisk, for guests to enjoy straight from the bowl.

Cutting Edge

Kitchen Must Haves

Nagumo credits his experience working as a chef as a major influence on his mixology techniques, and has a few interesting tools behind the bar to prove it. He frequents Kappabashi Dori in Asakusa ("It's known as Kitchen Town," he says), where several dozen stores sell everything from pots and pans, to some of the best Japanese kitchen knife brands. Tsubaya (3-7-2 Nishi-Asakusa, Taito; +81-3-3845-2005) is a veritable cutlery museum with more than 1,000 Japanese knives―some for sale, and some simply on display, including ones with handles carved like sea creatures. Personalization is their specialty, too; the willing staff will engrave any purchase with Japanese characters of your choice.

At confectionery supply store, Majimaya Kashidouguten (2-5-4 Nishi-Asakusa, Taito; +81-3-3844-3850), browse a selection of cake pans and tins emblazoned with traditional Japanese motifs like goldfish and cherry blossoms. Resident craftsman, Hitoshi Ogawara, creates original designs too, by hand-carving them into wood. Visitors can watch him work at the studio inside the store, then purchase the finished product to take home for a truly one-of-a-kind memento.

Where To Enjoy A Cocktail

Special Drinks, With Credentials To Boot

When he’s not busy running one of his own establishments, chances are Nagumo is out exploring Ginza’s nightlife scene. One of his favorite spots? Bar Lupin (Tsukamoto Fudosan Building, B1F, 5-5-11 Ginza, Chuo; +81-3-3571-0750), a cocktail lounge steeped in history, and with an old Tokyo atmosphere that still lives on. Opened in 1928, it immediately became a hangout for famous writers, and today, it revels in its own nostalgia with pamphlets in English and Japanese telling the stories of Lupin's many incarnations; the walls lined with photos of former patrons, and members of the Japanese literati.

To keep up with trends in the world of cocktailing, Nagumo visits his friend and peer, Kazuo Uyeda, who has created a name for himself in the world of molecular gastronomy. You'll find Uyeda behind the bar most nights at Tender (Nogakudo Building, 5th Floor, 6-5-15 Ginza, Chuo; +81-3-3571-8343), the place for shaken drinks. Credited with inventing the “hard shake,” which vigorously moves ice around inside the shaker, Uyeda insists his technique produces a better tasting cocktail. Star Bar (1-5-13 Ginza, Chuo; +81-3-3535-8005), also takes cocktail temperature seriously. Their secret? Perfectly hand-carved ice, and an ever-evolving drink menu that changes with the seasons.

Photo courtesy of mitzimee.com.

Divine Dining

Where To Eat In Tokyo

Ginza's nine blocks are world-renowned for some of the best high-end restaurants in the world, and Esquisse (5-4-6 Ginza, Chuo; +81-3-5537-5580), rises to the top of the list. The restaurant's name translates literally to "sketch" in French, an indication of Corisca-born chef, Lionel Beccat’s artistic technique, which melds French flair with Japanese ingredients to style an artful, daily-changing menu.

For sushi, Nagumo suggests venturing off to a tiny sushiya away from central Tokyo in a residential area where third-generation master chef, Koji Kumara, known as the "father of aged sushi," uses a process called jukusei—pieces of fish are cured for extended periods to enhance their natural flavors. At his two-Michelin starred, Sushi Kimura (3-21-8 Tamagawa, Setagaya; +81-3-3707-6355), each slice of fish is aged anywhere from two days to two months. Try the makajiki (blue marlin) aged for two months in soy sauce, which creates a sweet and savory piece of sushi that melts in the mouth.

To dine in what Nagumo describes as a “beautifully serene environment,” our mixologist escapes to Yakumo Saryo (3-4-7 Yakumo, Meguro; +81-3-5731-1620). The design of the suburban restaurant by Shinichiro Ogata is as intriguing as the food. Previously a residence, the space retains the atmosphere of a private home. Enjoy traditional Japanese breakfast in the tea salon, where natural light floods the room with tranquility. Breakfast and lunch are open to the public, but dinner is by invitation only, so be sure to plan accordingly.

Photo courtesy of Esquisse.

Things To Do In Ginza

Hint: There's More To The Neighborhood Than Shopping

There's more to do in the upscale neighborhood of Ginza than luxury shopping. On weekend afternoons the stylish main thoroughfare, Chuo-dori, is closed to traffic and becomes a pedestrian's paradise. Pop-up cafés serve food and drinks as roving street performers entertain passersby. In between the skyscrapers lies Tokyo's Hama-Rikyu Gardens (1-1 Hama-rikyu Teien, Chuo; +81-3-3541-0200), located on the mouth of the Sumida-gawa river. Check out the southern garden’s tidal pond where the scenery changes with the ebb and flow of the tide and provides a relaxing pause from the hectic pace of the city. Another secret spot is the Okuno Building (1-9-8 Ginza, Chuo; no telephone), a converted former apartment complex built in 1932. Today, the building houses 20 art galleries and ateliers. The second oldest building in Ginza, the space is open to the public for visitors to watch artists at work, and to buy original pieces. Don’t miss the experimental Room 306 project, a multi-use space with a roster of everything from installations to artist talks.