Let’s be real: There hasn’t been a lot of good news lately. But there’s nothing like a trip to Tokyo, the ultimate escapist metropolis, to clear the mind. When you’re craving ossu (translation: spectacle), this is the place to be. The key to understanding the city is to accept that the coolest spots are nearly impossible to find. As the general manager of the new Andaz hotel puts it, “The best way to see Tokyo is to get lost.” Dude has a point.
Start your jet-lagged visit with a hit of caffeine at Omotesando Koffee, a tiny pop-up café in a residential space that serves a perfectly frothy cappuccino. Just follow your nose. Tokyo is also home to a killer vintage-clothing scene. (Designer Steven Alan acknowledges finding inspiration here.) We fell hard for the offerings at Tarock With Ricco, a well-edited shop with only a side door, on the border of the Harajuku district. Here, a Take Ivy–inspired collection of collegiate tees from the 1950s and 1960s begs to be brought back home. You’ll also want to hit the basement at nearby Berberjin for denim.
Nighttime in this hedonist playground is even more of a treasure hunt. Worth a search is Bar High Five, a craft-cocktail gem on the fourth floor of a nondescript office building in trendy Ginza. This pin-quiet space has just 17 seats. The legendary owner, Hidetsugu Ueno, wasn’t there the night we visited, but a bartender dressed in a crisp oxford shirt and a necktie whipped up a potion as adeptly as Hermione Granger, mixing Templeton rye with hints of citrus and a touch of syrup. “Does the drink have a name?” we asked. She thought for a long time, then uttered one word: “No.” It didn’t need one. It was perfect.
Skip the hostess bars (you don’t need to pay women to flirt with you) and get thee to Golden Gai—six twisty alleys of microbars, some with as few as three seats. It looks like a place Bilbo Baggins would go to get drunk. Admire the cosplay on the street on your way to Bar Martha, a temple of sound hidden behind a wooden door where DJs spin vintage rock from a collection of 10,000 LPs broadcast through a McIntosh amp and speakers the size of a Mini Cooper. For God’s sake (or sake, as the case may be), keep your voice down. Sake is said to have restorative powers, and maybe Tokyo does too.
A Pocket Guide
Nakameguro is Tokyo’s answer to hipster Brooklyn and the perfect spot for an afternoon walk. Cow Books is a grab bag of out-of-print titles from the 1960s and 1970s. Clothing shop Hollywood Ranch Market feels like the best Los Angeles flea market. Hungry after your tour? Duck into Afurifor a perfect bowl of chuka soba tsukemen ramen.
The check-in desk at the new Andaz Tokyo is on the 51st floor of a high-rise in Toranmon Hills, and the views from its glass-walled lap pool seem infinite—and infinitely stunning. Start your morning with a schvitz and some miso soup.
THE SUSHI JOINT
Kyubey in Ginza is a 10-seat omakase sushi bar (and a favorite of Calvin Klein designer Italo Zucchelli). It’s an exceptional dining experience that’s both unassuming and explosive.
THE WORTHWHILE TOURIST TRAP
The tuna auctions at the Tsukiji market date back to 1935 and begin at five A.M. Where else can you see a chef act like Wolverine, pulling a fish out of an aquarium and turning it into sashimi? Visit soon, before the market relocates to a bigger space in 2016.
Emperor Meiji had a thing for French cuisine; if he were still alive, he’d worship the 12-seat bistro Beard in Meguro, where chef-owner Shin Harakawa (who interned at Chez Panisse) serves roasted deer with Camembert.