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What does Japan look like, sound like, or even smell like now? Once, we might have made a yearly pilgrimage to the land of cherry blossoms and immersed our senses in its secret onsens, unique sights and sounds. Now, over a year since the pandemic, it is but a faded memory.
There's still another way to jolt the senses with something uniquely Japan — and no, it doesn’t involve scrolling through photos taken on past trips. Pull up a chair and pour yourself a cup of sake — or nihonshu, as the national drink is called in Japan — and feel the memories wash over you again with a single sip.
The Japanese drinking experience isn’t complete without a hearty meal or light bar snacks, hence the popularity of Izakayas and sake bars! Unlike regular restaurants, the charm of such places lies in your interaction with the bar staff. As the availability and prices of sake are seasonal, you can get the staff to recommend sakes based on your preferences and budget.
So, if you’re looking to get the full experience, why not head on down to one of the many sake bars here in Singapore?
For the authentic Izakaya experience
1. Shukuu Izakaya
Stepping into Shukuu Izakaya makes you feel as though you’ve walked right into the back alleys of Osaka, where salarymen throng after work for their alcoholic fixes.
If you don’t know where to begin your nihonshu experience, Shukuu Izakaya is one of the best Izakayas in Singapore to start. The bar has passionate sommeliers who are more than willing to guide you along — they’ll even tell you the type of cup to use! Shukuu recommends their warm sake served in a sakazuki (small flat cup) that prevents the sake from going cold too soon while giving a more balanced mouthfeel.
You’d also be pleased to know that the bar takes inspiration from what’s trending in Japan and brings in new and seasonal sakes all the time. Here you’d even find Heart Tenmei — a blend of eight types of sake made from Fukushima rice — re-released in remembrance of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami 10 years on. While most of their sake offerings are by the bottle, some are available by the glass at a much more affordable price.
Address: 8 Stanley St, Singapore 068727
Opening Hours: Mondays to Sundays – 5:30pm to 10:30pm
2. Keria Japanese Restaurant
Since this Izakaya stays open well into the night, Keria is the go-to spot for an intimate late-night drink. This Izakaya is also popular among the Japanese community, so you know their stuff is legit.
Here you’ll find unusual menu items such as Fried Bacon and Tempura Natto (fermented soybeans), all of which are perfect for elevating the main star of the restaurant: sake. An impressive display of sake bottles lines the walls of the Izakaya, all of which are imported directly from Japan. Daiginjo, Junmaishu, Shochu — you want it, they got it.
The selection rotates according to the season, so you’ll virtually get the same experience as you would in Japan. Sakes are available by the glass, so don’t hesitate to ask the friendly lady boss for recommendations!
Address: 5 Keok Road, # B1-28 Cuppage Plaza, 228796
Opening Hours: Mondays to Saturdays — 6:00pm to 10:30pm, Sundays — 6:00pm to 10:00pm
3. Shunjuu Izakaya
You can pretty much forget about visiting Shunjuu Izakaya without a reservation — this swanky al-fresco Izakaya draws a crowd even in the middle of the week.
On top of an extensive menu of sake, they’ve got an equally extensive Japanese food menu specially curated to match the different sakes available. Not only do they have the usual Junmai (pure rice sake) and Aruten (alcohol-added sake), but they also serve less commonly-known sakes like Nigori sake (cloudy and unfiltered) and even the rare fuguzake (blowfish-infused sake).
For something unusual, try their crunchy grilled cheese with a glass of Yamahai Junmai! Grilled items, such as their shishamo (pregnant smelt fish) and salmon head, are a firm favourite among regulars, so you definitely can’t miss out on those.
Opening Hours: Mondays to Thursdays — 12:00pm - 2:30pm, 6:00pm - 11:00pm, Fridays & Saturdays — 12:00pm - 2:30pm, 6:00pm - 11:30pm, Sundays — 12:00pm - 2:30pm, 5:30pm - 10.30pm
Address: 30 Robertson Quay #01-15 Riverside View, Singapore 238251
For get-togethers with friends
4. Gaku Sushi Bar
Easties rejoice! Located within Downtown East is Gaku Sushi Bar, the perfect place to catch up with friends over some sake.
They’re famous for their inexpensive lunch sets starting from S$20.80, but that’s just the tip of what their extensive menu has to offer. From yoshoku (western-influenced Japanese-style) pasta to sashimi, the splendour of dishes available caters to groups where everyone really wants Japanese food but just can’t decide on what kind of Japanese food.
Gaku Sushi Bar features a full bar with a special curation of sake, such as Musashino Sparkling Riziere (S$74.80), an unprocessed sparkling sake with a fruity flavour and relatively low alcohol percentage that’s perfect for celebrations. Otherwise, alcohol alternatives in the form of premium and organic red wines starting from S$71.50 are available as well.
Address: 1 Pasir Ris Close, #02-304/305, Singapore 519599
Opening Hours: Mondays to Sundays — 11:30am to 10:30pm
5. Tommy’s Sake Bar
Tommy’s Sake Bar is a new concept sushi restaurant under Tomi Sushi Singapore, which hails from Niigata, Japan. Here, their concept fuses traditional with modern Japanese cuisine.
Trust us when we say their drinks menu is nothing short of extensive. Each sake tells you exactly what type of rice was used to produce it, as well as its SMV (Sake Meter Value) which is used to gauge the dryness and sweetness of the sake, its milling rate, acidity and alcohol percentage. The average joe might not make much sense out of these numbers, but folks chest-deep in the fine art of sake would definitely appreciate the detailed distinctions.
For the indecisive ones (or if you’re just not willing to drop a bomb), Tommy’s Sake Bar also offers sake flights. For just S$20, you’ll get three 60ml cups of sake to sample and compare.
Address: 182 Cecil Street, Singapore 069547
Opening Hours: Mondays to Saturdays — 11:30am to 2:30pm, 5:30pm to 9:30pm
For the full-fledged nihonshu experience
6. Bam! Restaurant
For something a little more unique, head on down to Bam! for some Spanish-Japanese fusion tapas and sake. Where else can you find items like duck gyoza or even baby leek tempura with balsamic teriyaki?
A massive chiller displays over 100 different sake labels at a time, including rare ones from smaller breweries found in Shizuoka and Tochigi. A sip of their sake, like the Ura-Gasanryu from the Yamagata prefecture, will instantly bring a sense of nostalgia when the taste of pears (which Yamagata is famous for) washes over your tongue.
With so many different sakes available, it’s easy to find yourself overwhelmed — so why not level up your sake knowledge with one of their sake appreciation sessions? You and your friends would get to indulge in their specially curated selection of tasting tapas and pairing sake for just S$68++!
Address: 38 Tras Street, Singapore 078977
Opening Hours: Tuesdays to Saturdays — 12:00pm to 2:00pm, 6:00pm to 10:30pm
7. Hibiki Sake Bar & Dine
The menu of Hibiki Sake Bar & Dine is fairly extensive — offering popular Japanese food such as oden, tempura and skewers — but as its name suggests, they specialise in sake.
There is a wide range of varying types of sake to pick from, most of which are imported from Japan. Want something cold? They recommend their cold sake options like Kagamiyama Ginjyo from Saitama and Kiminoi Honjyozo from Niigata. Feeling like you need some warming up? You wouldn’t want to pass up their hot sake Kokuryu Kuzuryu Dai Ginjyo Atsukan from Fukui.
And to lighten the burden on your wallet, they’ve got a 1-for-1 happy hour that runs from 5:00pm to 7:30pm every day.
Address: 2 Tanjong Katong Road #01-07, PLQ 3, Paya Lebar Quarter, Singapore 437161
Opening Hours: Mondays to Sundays — 12:00pm to 2:30pm, 5:00pm to 10:30pm
8. The Bar Kakure
This is where it gets a bit more froufrou and exquisite — it is fine dining after all. Plus, this sake bar can only seat 15, which transforms the entire experience into an exclusive, intimate affair.
Kakure brings in rare and exclusive handcrafted sakes such as Kokuryu Ishidaya, or interesting ones like pink sake that’s made with special yeast. The catch? Each of these sakes is only brought in only once. Once it’s sold, you might have to take a trip to Japan just to find it.
The omakase and sake pairing menu might be pricey, but as this is as close to the real deal as you can get without flying to Japan for an authentic gastronomic experience, it’s worth every single cent.
Address: 29 Scotts Rd, Singapore 228224
Opening Hours: Mondays to Fridays — 12:00pm - 2:30pm, 6:00pm - 10:30pm, Saturdays — 6:00pm - 10:30pm
9. Orihara Shoten
You can’t have a list of sake bars without including one of the most popular sake bars in Singapore: Orihara Shoten.
As the bar is a collaboration between Japanese sake exporters Orihara and local booze distributors, only the best, the most exclusive and the rarest of sakes can be found here. In fact, they claim the sakes wouldn’t even be exported out of Japan otherwise.
If you’re looking to bring home a bottle (or a few, since they’re that good), all you have to do is to point at the one you want and they’ll pack it up for you.
Address: 11 Unity Street, Singapore 237995
Opening Hours: Mondays to Wednesdays — 6:00pm to 12:00am, Thursdays to Saturdays — 6:00pm to 1:30am
While travelling to the Land of the Rising Sun remains an uncertain dream for now, that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to enjoy the flavours of Japan on our own sunny shores. Grab a friend and drink away at some of these best sake bars in Singapore. Kanpai. For those of you who prefer to experience Japan in the comfort of your own home, check out iShopChangi and GetIt’s extensive range of sakes available just a click away!
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