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High Five

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Efflore Ginza5 Bldg. BF 5-4-15 Ginza Chuo-ward 104-0061 Tokyo, Japan

THAT A TINY, MODEST HANGOUT TUCKED INTO THE NOOK of a much bigger, unrelated, building in Tokyo can call the World’s 50 Best Bars list its home for four consecutive years explains why Hidetsugu Ueno is Japan’s most celebrated bartender.

Central to High Five is the experience and Ueno is the master of ceremony. Thanks to his years at Star Bar Ginza - also in the list this year - Ueno is a veritable ice samurai. Every great artist needs a USP and Ueno’s is the diamond-shaped ice he chips from the brilliantly clear blocks that are delivered daily.
It starts with a cleaver the size of a turbot that cuts a block of ice with the swift accuracy of a master bricklayer-turned sushi chef and ends with a three-inch carving knife that chisels and sculpts until you could mount the result on a ring and sell it to a gangster. 

Next in Ueno’s box of tricks is the hard shake, a horizontal rolling movement which is as rhythmic as it is vigorous. This is not to be attempted by the infirm, but those who like their drinks chilled without over-dilution should take heed - this is shaking on a precise level. 

At High Five there are no menus. This is Ueno’s more conspicuous skill - the ability to conjure a tailored concoction after only a few taste-preference probes. Though he doesn’t drink, you won’t be disappointed with his repertoire of classics that forms the basis for most of his drink-play.

But let’s hear from the man himself: "Bartending is an old-school type of occupation here in Japan. It’s a more artisanal type of work, such as ‘master and pupil’. [For example] we focus on classics behind the bar, then what people can do their own way. Customer service in Japanese bars is based on hospitality. All that we are doing here is for the customers - how can we satisfy them?"

While Japanese bartending has received recognition over the past decade, these are skills of old, according to Ueno. "We’ve been searching for the best way for a long time - generations and generations. During the past 10 years, a lot of international visitors have come to Japan and come into contact with our hospitality. And they are amazed. It might be very new for them but we have been doing the same things for ages. People overseas are amazed by us because we are different. I don’t say [for us] not to learn their way but we should keep our identity."

Led by Ueno and the likes of Star Bar’s Hisashi Kishi we get the feeling Japanese bartending is in good - and very dexterous - hands. 

Drinks International