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by Carlo Niederberger

Bar Ho

Tokyo is full of forgettable bars. Luckily for tipplers, it's also got more than its share of great ones—although tracking them down is sometimes a challenge. Bar Ho is such a place. An Old World drinking den in the truest sense, this standout establishment offers a chilled ambience, soft jazz and fine libations that stop the hands of time after a hard day at the office. It's the kind of place you'd never leave, given the choice.

Upon entering a large tuft of sprouting wheat signals that this house specializes in single malts and their kin, all of which are stacked, book-like, in a gargantuan hardwood cabinet. Like a Harvard librarian, the bartender uses a ladder to reach the uppermost shelves where bottles stand in for bound volumes—and surely the quality and selection and age are on par with any Ivy League literary collection. The dark steel framework of the spiral stairway and gangplank that lead to an intimate upstairs adorned with plush red velvet sofas and coffee tables, perfect for a confidential powwow or dangerous liaison, shores up the classic yet simple interior. Not surprisingly, solitary types from local Aoyama populate the expansive bar, lost in a private world, while businessmen and women stick to the lounge areas on both floors.

Although Bar Ho stocks over 70 varieties of single malts, including five types of Macallan, Glenmorangie and Bowmore starting at ¥1,000, rare and outrageously priced scotches have been deliberately left off the menu to draw a more diverse crowd and create a more democratic ambience—despite the patrician décor. And, when the amber liquid arrives in a short glass with a perfect sphere of ice, an extravagance that's becoming harder to find in cost-conscious Tokyo, you definitely feel you've landed in the lap of low-key luxury. The only thing missing from elegant Bar Ho is pretension. You may feel you're keeping company with the elite, but a night of indulgence here is cost effective enough for a commoner with a taste for good scotch.

Open 6pm-2am Mon-Thu, 6pm-5am Fri, Sat, 3pm-12am Sun, hols. 6-2-10 Backborn House B1F, Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku. Tel: 5774-4390. Nearest stn: Omotesando.

Photo credit: Nobby Kealey