With aching feet and empty bellies, pushing your way past the throng through the extremely busy streets of Shinjuku may seem like a daunting task. A task David and I were willing to go through for the miniscule chance of getting a seat at Zoetrope, the legendary whiskey bar featured in various travel magazines and blogs.
Like most exciting things in Japan, this whiskey bar is stashed away on the third floor of a nondescript building serviced by an old, squeaky elevator. We arrived two hours before opening time and decided to get a bite to eat at the adjacent izakaya, Mifune.
The smoky atmosphere, a mix of cigarettes and cooking beef, assaulted our nostrils as the waiter greeted us at the door. The izakaya was littered with posters and gigantic murals of the legendary actor Toshiro Mifune, from which the name of the restaurant came from.
While you can opt to dine traditionally on tatami mats and low tables toward the back of the room, we chose to sit right in the middle of the establishment. As we got seated, I waste no time in ordering my favorite dishes as I’ve been here countless of times before.
“Kampai!!!” A group of salary men, black and blue blazers slung over their chairs, clink their glasses together in cheers after what I assumed was a grueling yet typical day at work in Tokyo.
Tapping my foot impatiently, I perked up as I saw a bowl of edamame being prepared on the kitchen counter. David calls me an edamame machine. Once you get a bowl in front of me, I won’t stop eating in quick succession until it’s all gone.
As we waited for our marinated meats to cook on the charcoal grill, I munched on the Otōshi, a mandatory appetizer billed in lieu of a seating charge. That night, it was crunchy bean sprouts with a dash of sesame oil and salt.
The meat never had the chance to cool down before ultimately making its way into my salivating mouth. Yum! The sweet sesame with garlic was just the perfect marinade on my pork toro. Two hours and a full belly later, we were raring to go! We paid our bill and headed to Zoetrope.
Exiting the dingy elevator, we arrived at this door. The bar’s name Zoetrope was spelled in Katakana.
A zoetrope is one of several pre-film animation devices that produce the illusion of motion by displaying a sequence of drawings or photographs showing progressive phases of that motion. – Wikipedia, 2016
It’s no wonder that owner Atsushi Horigami named his establishment that since he constantly screens old, classic films in the dimly lit space.
Being the first patrons there, we got an unobstructed view of his collection. One of the things Atsushi is known to have is some of the elusive bottles from Ichiro’s Card Series. It is a collectible, with one full set reportedly sold in Hong Kong for almost five hundred thousand dollars. David has never tried Japanese whiskey before, preferring his Maker’s Mark Bourbon. And as I am not fond of whiskey, we decided to play it safe and ordered a Hibiki tasting set.
The crowd soon came piling in. Atsushi is kind and helpful, but can seem a little dismissive to non-whiskey geeks. I don’t blame him. After all the magazine and blog features, his local guests probably decided to go to a different place because of all the wide-eye tourists flocking in every night. However, this shouldn’t stop you from coming over whether you’re a fan or not. Zoetrope has one of the broadest selections of Japanese whiskey in Tokyo, and with its slight cinematic “Lost in Translation” vibe, it’s perfect for a chill night out in Shinjuku.