Kita Aoyama Salon: Absinthe makes the dark go longer
Just steps from Gaienmae exit 3, in the Sign Café building, is an oft-overlooked door, easily mistaken for a service entrance. Beyond, however, is an intimate, gothic den of liquidity.
Upon entry, the dimly lit interior of Kita Aoyama Salon cloaks you in privacy no matter where you sit. There’s not much to see in the ambient soft lighting and candelabra glow bouncing off dark wood walls. We choose the stunted bar stools allowing us to check the goods. Better yet, most of Salon’s elixirs are not on the menu. Like any good bar, the bartenders prefer to find out what you like and match the drinks to suit.
Special cocktails involve custom infusions, bitters and homemade syrups. These, like the elderflower grenadine or the ginger-and-lemongrass syrup, go into drinks such as fresh-fruit martinis or to spike up something traditional—in our case a zippy pineapple Moscow mule (¥1,400).
We asked about their bottled beer and chose a Lion stout (¥1,000) from Sri Lanka out of that night’s varied off-the-menu selection (including Jever from Germany, and Duchesse de Bourgogne from Belgium, ¥1,400). We paired it with some soft homemade beef jerky marinated in soy and sugar (¥700) and let our eyes get accustomed to the dark.
Salon is now focusing on an earlier—and hungrier—crowd. A slight increase in the lighting means customers can now see their food. With the help of a small flashlight, we ordered the special dry curry with rice (¥1,400), aged for 100 hours and containing 34 spices. Not too hot, it kept our taste buds guessing—tamarind, cinnamon, apple, pickled onion and dry fruits? The steak (¥1,600) came served with fries to soak up the roast-like gravy. They also serve a salty bagna cauda with fresh vegetables (¥1,000).
Bartender Kosuke Hidaka cleverly recommended cocktails based on our conversations. First was a gin and tonic with hyuganatsu, that purely Japanese crossbreed of lemon and yuzu (¥1,200). Simple. Refreshing. Unique.
We noticed a few bottles of absinthe and had to ask. Hidaka duly whipped up a concoction with muddled mint, lime and sugar. He added Beefeater gin, some Carib and house syrup, then dropped in a bomb of Marilyn Manson’s Mansinthe and set it before us. “This,” he proclaimed, “is a Cheap Mojito.” At ¥1,350 we were inclined to disagree, but it was strong and biting, and left us floating up the stairs when we left, with thoughts from the green faerie muse.