Just down the road from its better-known cousin Shimokitazawa, the Sasazuka neighborhood has its own Bohemian feel, with funky recycle shops, Tokyo’s coolest bowling alley (www.sasazukabowl.com) and countless small bars tucked away on side streets.
We headed out on a Thursday evening to get a jump on the weekend and were pleasantly surprised to find the area lively enough to have a good time, but not so packed that we would have to worry about finding a place with empty tables.
Our first stop was Home (2F Sasazuka YK Bldg, 2-12-14 Sasazuka, Shibuya-ku. tel: 050-5798-9468), an appropriately-named, down-to-earth restaurant with a tatami room in the back. The low prices of its signature pizzas (all ¥500) had us a bit worried that we would get some rubbery microwaved slabs, but we were pleased with the ultra-thin crusts topped with novel flavor combinations like asparagus with mustard, cream cheese and fresh tomato (pictured). Extra toppings were just ¥100, making us feel free to experiment, and we also ordered some pickled seasonal vegetables (¥380) to nibble on. The drinks are uniformly priced at ¥300, and we washed our ‘za down with a few Sapporo Black Label drafts and some highballs.
Walking down the shotengai a bit further, we arrived at the plain wooden door of Rim Shot (B1 Takizawa Bldg, 2-41-17 Sasazuka, Shibuya-ku. www.bar-rimshot.com). Coming directly from the cut-rate Italian joint, our second stop immediately struck us as a typically staunch Japanese shot bar (with suitably corresponding prices), complete with a wall of perfectly arranged bottles. We knew we were in for something special, though, when our bar stools turned out to be famed black-and-chrome, cube-shaped Le Corbusier LC2 armchairs. The background piano music was set to a diminutively faint level and the lighting extremely low-key, but when the ever-attentive barman noticed us pull out a notebook, he immediately produced a small brass desk lamp. Talk about omotenashi. In a city dominated by whisky bars, it was refreshing to find one with an impressive selection of cognacs. We ordered a Paul Giraud Vieille Reserve (¥1,400) and the bartender recommended a Cognac Tesseron The Great Smoker (¥2,000), which is in rare supply after critic Robert Parker rated it at 99 points. The cigar list was tempting and we gave into a Hoyo de Monterrey Petit Robusto (¥1,400), while making a mental note to return for the live jazz nights every third Saturday.
Hours: 7 p.m.-4 a.m.
We ended the evening only slighty farther down the road at Kaseda Tequila & Coffee (3-19-5 Sasazuka, Shibuya-ku. www.tequilacoffeekaseda.com). Perched at the top of a long, narrow staircase, the bar has a sign at the entrance asking visitors to remove their shoes. Since the tables are Swedish artillery cases and the chairs are cushions on the floor, we felt as if we were hanging out a friend’s place—albeit a particularly hip one with more than 30 varieties of cactus liquor at his disposal. One of our party was a bit disappointed to learn their first choice was sold out, but pleased that the Don Julio Reposado (¥750), could be served with sangrita (“little blood,” ¥350). This spicy chaser made with citrus, tomato juice and Tabasco is a relaxing way to nurse a tequila and will make you wonder why you ever did lemon wedge and salt shots in college. As we enjoyed our drinks and stretched our legs, we realized that if this were in Shibuya or Shinjuku, it would be packed with more seats than is comfortable or we’d be in a long queue outside waiting to get in. But in Sasazuka—we were sitting pretty.
Hours: 7 p.m.-3 a.m.
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