Ant ’n Bee: Japanese craft beers worth relishing in the heart of Roppongi
Would it be overdoing it to talk about a beer bar boom in Tokyo? Barely a month seems to go by without a couple of new places popping up around town, ranging from big-gun offerings such as Akasaka’s Biervana to the homebrew labor-of-love that is Koenji Beer Kobo. Gone are the days when you had to go out of your way to enjoy a decent pint of ji-biiru—now some neighborhoods even give you a handful of specialist watering holes to choose from, for chrissakes.
One of the best of the new crop is Ant ’n Bee, a dedicated Japanese craft beer joint that shares its building with the Roppongi branch of venerable pub-slash-whisky bar Abbot’s Choice. Manager Makiko Kawabe used to work behind the counter at Abbot’s upstairs before heading down to the basement to helm this start-up, and she tackles her new role with sass and enthusiasm, offering tips and cajoling customers into trying something different. (The last time I went, she asked me what “coquettish” meant—make of that what you will.)
There are always around 20 beers available on tap, with the day’s selections listed on printed menus that customers are free to take home at the end of the night. Drinks are ordered according to type and accompanied by staff recommendations, tasting notes—only in Japanese, sadly—and alcohol content info, as well as an IBU bitterness rating. At least half of the selections are liable to change each week, though sometimes it doesn’t even take that long. “The really popular ones are gone within three days,” says Kawabe.
On a recent visit, we started off with an Isekadoya Blonde Ale and Fujizakura Kogen Weizen, before moving on to Sankt Gallen’s Kyoho Ruby Ale, a surprisingly un-girly fruit brew made especially for Ant ’n Bee. Later, we moved on to Minoh’s W-IPA, a hefty 9-percent monster from Osaka that’ll put hair on your elbows. Beers are priced at a flat ¥1,260 for a US pint, with “regular” and “small” sizes available for ¥945 and ¥735, respectively; the latter are perhaps the more sensible option if you’re setting yourself up for a serious night of tasting and want to leave on your own two feet.
If the beers are the main selling point here, we were also pleasantly surprised by the food menu. Stodgy no-brainers like fish & chips (¥1,050) sit alongside less obvious choices such as pickled sausage and mushrooms (¥680) and “jagagon,” which turns out to consist of potato croquettes served with a gorgonzola sauce (¥680). When we asked about the pasta of the day (¥900), the chef obligingly offered to whip us up anything we like. That’s the spirit.