The Weekly Mix: Quiet Perfectionism at Bar High Five

by Emily Bell
Antoinette Bruno
June 2012


  • Bar High Five
    No. 26 Polestar Building, 4th floor
    7-2-14 Ginza Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061
    +81 (0)3 3571 5815

The Hunter cocktail seems to care about three things: a good portion of whiskey, a dose of cherry liqueur, and sufficient self-control to leave all of the above alone so it can sit by the fire and ponder leather and pipes. As the name suggests, it’s a prototypically masculine cocktail (according to the beverage gender stereotypes of “Girl Drink Drunk"). But whatever sex you ascribe it to, The Hunter is fundamentally about one thing—perfected simplicity.

And maybe that’s why it’s the ideal drink for idiosyncratic cocktail den Bar High Five and Hidetsugu Ueno’s meticulous menu. Not that Ueno, a globally respected craftsman, is all bidness (though his frills-free bar, tucked into the top floor of a corporate building, might look it). He’s a mix of cryptic, clever, humble, and precise. When we asked him about his concept for the bar, he replied: “I have no concept. That is my concept.” Ueno isn’t trying to be cute. He means it: Bar High Five is where Ueno does whatever Ueno does.

So named “because it sounds [like] fun, [friendliness], and victory,” Bar High Five actually exists in a cocktail culture that prioritizes exacting consistency over bizarre innovation (spherified gin, pumpernickel-infused whiskey, et al). The cocktail tastes in Tokyo, says Ueno, “[have] more than 100 years [of] history.” And even as Ueno himself participates in global cocktail competitions—once a contestant, now a judge—he insists that Japan’s mixology scene is independent. “We don’t care if English-speaking countries say they are the capital of cocktails. We go for our own way, like we have been [doing].”

The Hunter, Poised for the Kill

The Hunter, Poised for the Kill

Coincidentally, what they’re doing in Tokyo seems a bit like what’s been going on in the United States, at least in terms of cocktail purism. Case in point, we were told Japanese bartenders judge themselves on their ability to create the perfect Manhattan. “Japanese bartenders always stay in classic [cocktails]. They have their own efforts for [making the] most popular classic cocktails,” says Ueno. “And not only for a Manhattan. It’s a very strong, mature country for making drinks.”

Which brings us to The Hunter, a very strong, mature drink, and quite possibly the best we had on our Tokyo trip. “I [served] it because no one overseas knows this cocktail,” says Ueno. Even so, The Hunter has a lot of the spirits-forward purity of say, a room temperature cocktail. (Though for his recipe, Ueno likes his Old Ezra and cherry Heering stirred with lots of cubed ice—“I'm very picky which cubed ice I use for stirring,” says the nonchalant master of the ice diamond.)

As for the flavor, “it’s very simple: [bourbon] whisky and cherry brandy.” But even within that pared down formula, “[there are] so many different flavors; it’s very complex.” Ueno might be expressing an immovable Japanese penchant for classics, but his views tend to align with a common drive toward economical complexity in mixology— i.e., the fewest ingredients producing the most flavor. With a solid 2:1 ratio of Old Ezra (at 101 proof) to the Heering, The Hunter succeeds, landing on the ever-so-slightly sweeter side of the cocktail gender spectrum: dark caramel and vanilla notes mingling with pleasantly complex black cherry flavors. And it comes with the bonus of all cocktail classics: the drink’s easy to replicate. Harder, we’re guessing, is replicating Ueno’s quirky perfectionism.

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