Most people come to Japan to do Japanese things. I am one of those people; however, there comes a point on many trips where I just want to do something comfortable and familiar. In the case of travelling with my partner Jill, that was to drink craft beer. While I am totally content to drink Asahi Dry and slurp on noodles, she needed the comfort of an ice cold, hoppy IPA like that found in the Pacific Northwest to ease the culture shock of her first trip to Tokyo.
In a “Hail Mary” attempt to keep her happy after days of dragging a toddler around Tokyo, we went to the most reliably awesome source of craft beer I could find in Tokyo — the Danish born Mikkeller Bar in Tokyo’s busy Shibuya district.
Spending an hour or two at a Danish bar tucked away in a narrow alleyway populated by love hotels and tiny restaurants, presumably for either pre or post-love hotel dining, may seem like a decidedly un-Japanese thing to do, but I would argue otherwise.
While yes, there were a few more foreigners here than in other establishments, there seems to be a growing synergy between Danish and Japanese culture. Both embrace a sense of minimalism and clean design. Both also embrace cozy ideals like hygge and wabi-sabi. The proliferation of Danish brands in Japan is nothing like the American invasion, but it is evident if not somewhat understated — go figure.
The simplistic concrete is warmed by wood accents and well-appointed lighting making for a welcoming space. Tabletop Ikebana and a neighbouring Shinto shrine bring a distinctly Japanese vibe to the small watering hole.
As far as the beer is concerned, there is not much to worry about here. Mikkeller Tokyo features beer from its mothership in Denmark in addition to local brews from Japanese craft breweries such as Yorocco in nearby Zushi. Craft beer in Japan is certainly not cheap, but I would liken the type of beer served here more to wine than beer in terms of its cultural relevance. Still, it is best to be prepared and understand in advance that a craft beer in Tokyo will run you anywhere from 1000¥ to 1500¥, or roughly 2-3 times the price of the commercial draught.
The people milling about the bar are mostly Japanese, and the staff a mix of travelling Danes and well travelled English speaking Japanese beer aficionados, which makes for a great resource to find out more about the city if you have been struggling to pick up some of the nuances in Japanese like I generally do.
There is something about Mikkeller Tokyo that is a worthy stop on the traveller’s itinerary. For me, it was a moment of calm in amongst the constant hustle and bustle of one of the world’s busiest cities — a chance to relax, contemplate and imbibe over a fantastic beer from one of the world’s best craft breweries and their carefully curated selection of local Japanese brews too. The space itself breeds conversation, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself chatting away with fellow travellers and locals alike.