San Francisco’s Imaginative Zen Bar

Lit by factory pendant lights, The Bar at Hotel Kabuki is a must-visit when exploring San Francisco’s Japantown neighborhood. Enlightened in the spirits of Japan, bartenders guide drinkers through the country’s whiskies, beers, and sakes. They also shake up some tasty and daring cocktails. 

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The Bar’s spirit philosophy lies in the East, its location in the West. People happen upon The Bar purposefully as much as accidentally — a door from Japan Center Mall connects to this spot, located in the lobby of Hotel Kabuki

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In a single week, The Bar can be any one of these things: 

The Kanpai Bar 

The Bar focuses on Eastern culture, honoring its location in Japantown. More than a dozen sakes are on the menu, with half available to taste by the glass. Embrace the tradition of saying kanpai on that first sip.  

The Haven Bar

Haven, Kabuki’s courtyard, has been tended into a Zen garden, complete with a pagoda, a Koi pond, and tucked-away nooks. The whole purpose is to discover them, along with spirited art and sculptures, on your own. No spoilers, but a “Haven Hunt” scavenger-style search is often part of the hotel’s program. 

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 The Fire & Ice Bar  

Starting in October, the fire pits in Haven have purred to life — also, electric candles are lit. You can head to the courtyard with a drink on the rocks or even enjoy a highbrow take on a beer bucket, overflowing with an assortment of Japanese brews.

The Flight Bar

If you’re looking to get acquainted with Japanese whisky, The (Flight) Bar’s got choices and knowledgeable bartenders eager to talk you through it. Maybe two fingers of Mars Shinshu? Or maybe Eigashima Shuzo is more your jam (established in 1679)? 

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The Tea Bar

Tea is a Japanese tradition. But filling the teapot with tea alone is so limiting! The warm cocktail Hello, Amanojaku, for example, comes in a teapot  accompanied with melonpan, a Japanese sweet bun. The Chai-based drink also mixes in Suntory Toki whisky, Giffard vanilla, cashew milk, and macadamia almond orgeat. Another teapot classic, Golden Tea Milk Punch, uses Sencha Green, along with Nikka Coffey Gin, Giffard vanilla, honey, turmeric, and coconut milk.

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The BYOV Bar 

Two things are certain – a) you should you stop in on Mondays and b) vinyl is in. The Bar’s record collection is superior, but patrons are known to dust off their own records for a spin. Sometimes, a couple of people will hijack the Pro-Ject turntable for the evening to relive the 1970s and 1980s — it’s a great start to the week. 

The Flower-Elixir and Haiku Bar   

On certain nights of the month, Haiku is perfected by The Haiku Guys + Gals, who write personalized poems on vintage typewriters. Mix that with Sweet Pea Farewell, a tequila concoction with the aforementioned flower, lime juice, and pineapple soda water. Now, that’s poetry.

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