Bar Botanical, a cozy vegetarian bar in Arakicho

Being vegetarian or vegan in Japan is not always easy.
Cooking vegetarian food or vegan food at home is fine, but going out with friends, especially ones who eat animal products, can be a challenge. You often end up eating at the same places, and sometimes your Japanese pals will not accept going to places that don’t serve meat.
I was really glad when the editor-in-chief of the Japanese version of Tadaima Japan, Mr. Shigenobu, invited me to discover two vegan friendly bars in Arakicho, his beloved Tokyo district. The first one, Bar Botanical, is a bar with the kind of relaxed atmosphere I appreciate, and the other, VOWZ bar is a bar managed by Buddhist monks!
This time, I’d like to introduce you to Bar Botanical.

2018-05-14   Araki-Cho, Food & Drinks, Araki-Cho, Tokyo,


Bar Botanical, an ideal place to talk and relax

Bar Botanical has a very classical bar atmosphere: a counter and a few tables, dim lights, and relaxing jazz music playing in the background. Here and there, a few plants and dried flowers elegantly remind us of the name and spirit of the place. We were welcomed with a smile by the bar’s gentle owner, Shunya Mitsumura, who is running the place all by himself.
I was a little nervous at first, because I never really had the opportunity to spend some time with Mr. Shigenobu, who used to be editor-in-chief for several famous Japanese magazines, and who’s got this typical laid-back charisma that only experienced writers have. But the whole atmosphere of Botanical Bar felt cozy and intimate enough for me to allow myself to relax and engage in casual talk.
I soon realized, as we ordered our first drinks, that Mr. Shigenobu and I have a common point of sorts. We both have habits that do not really fit in Japanese food and drinks culture: I’m a vegetarian and Mr. Shigenobu doesn’t drink any alcohol. It was easy for both of us to understand the difficulties that can be faced when one wants to go out with friends or colleagues in a heavily meat-based and alcohol-based partying culture.

Some original drinks to enjoy

So, naturally, Mr. Shigenobu decided to order some fresh juice. On my part, I decided to have a strawberry daiquiri, as it was strawberry season (I love sweet, fruity cocktails).
Of course, Mr. Mitsumura only uses fresh fruits and you can tell he’s very careful of the quality of his ingredients. The daiquiri was awesome: just the right amount of alcohol and sweetness, and a rich strawberry flavor. When I learnt that Mr. Mitsumura regularly changed his special drinks menu to match the seasonal products, I couldn’t help but wonder what delicious fruity cocktails would come up on the menu next time.
Unsurprisingly, you can be served all the usual drinks you can find in a western-style bar, but also enjoy some rare drinks. There is no Japanese sake here, but you can order Suruga Bay beer, a very local Japanese beer (I love the colorful design of their bottles).
Mr. Mitsumura is a whisky lover and he makes his own blend, baptized ‘Botanical Malt Blend’. It comes out of a small barrel behind the counter – I had never seen this in Japan before!
On the menu, a drink named ‘cinnamon spiced rum’ aroused my curiosity, and I ordered it on the rocks. It had a very nice, golden color. It was rum mixed with cinnamon and vanilla, so I expected something very sweet, but it was a little stronger than I expected. It was the kind of drink to savor slowly to enjoy all the complexity of the spices.

The strawberry daiquiri and the cinnamon spiced rum: they tasted as good as they looked

Tasty vegetarian snacks

Many Japanese people are unfamiliar with the nuances of being a vegetarian : what you can and can’t eat, why you have decided to become a vegetarian, etc.
Luckily, Mr. Mitsumura, while not being vegetarian himself, has perfectly understood the tastes and the needs of vegetarian people. Most of his menu is actually vegan, with a few vegetarian options including dairy products. When we asked him why he created this menu, even though he is not vegetarian himself, he replied: “I realized that most food you eat as snacks in the last bar you visit before going home was mostly junk food. I wanted my customers to eat something healthier, and the vegan and vegetarian cuisine naturally came to my mind. I do love vegetable-based food.”
I immediately ordered falafels when I understood Mr. Shigenobu never had them before, and he seemed to appreciate their crispiness and delicate spicy flavor as much as I did. It was a great opportunity to answer Mr. Shigenobu’s questions about the vegetarian diet balance and tell him the importance of eating all sorts of peas and nuts – reflected in the bar’s menu. The other snacks we had included al dente Napolitan pasta, sautéed spinach, and moussaka. All were delicious.
We were able to order and taste many snacks because it was early and we were the first customers of the night; but as Mr. Mitsumura is alone to prepare the dishes, there is a kind of unspoken rule not too order too much food when there are other customers – this is a drinking place, after all.

On the left: the falafels; on the right: the moussaka

A place loved by the locals – but also ideal for a solo traveler

Whether you are in groups or alone, do not hesitate to push this door

“Most of my customers are locals from Arakicho who come here to have one last drink with a snack or two and have a little relaxing time after work or a more exhausting party. The peak time at my bar is around midnight – I’m open until 3am. For some reason, most of my customers are young working women,” Mr. Mitsumura told me with his soft spoken, calm voice.
Being a woman myself, I had little trouble understanding why young active women like this place. The safe neighborhood, the cozy atmosphere, the original drinks, the healthy food and Mr. Mitsumura’s caring service added up very quickly.
Despite the fact he runs the bar all by himself, Mr. Mitsumura is very attentive to the needs of his customers. He will change your plates and serve you water without you even noticing it.
The desire to make his customers happy is also why he also has a menu in English.
“Did you translate this by yourself?”, I asked.
“Yes, I did. I also have foreign customers sometimes, and I thought it would be nice for them if I made a menu in English.”
“You seem to be pretty good at English!”
“I’m sorry to admit it but I can’t speak a word!”
This came as a surprise because I could not spot any mistakes on the English menu – which is still pretty rare in Japan.

I think Bar Botanical is a great place because it can appeal to many. While the food menu is vegetarian oriented, my non-vegetarian drinking buddy for the night enjoyed everything, so it’s easy to bring some friends too. Most of all, its atmosphere makes it very welcoming for all: locals and travelers, Japanese and foreigners alike.
The bar is great to have some deep conversations in groups of two or three, but even if you are alone, the place is very hairiyasui, as Japanese people would say: it’s easy to enter and feel at home. If you live in Tokyo and like to drink alone, or if you’re a solo traveler (especially if you’re a woman) looking for a safe place to relax, Bar Botanical is definitely the place you will want to go to.

For smartphone users, please click the link below to go to the Tadaima Japan website that includes the place information:
http://tadaimajp.com/2018/04/bar_botanical/

Please click here for another article on this place from the perspective of a Japanese person (written in Japanese):
http://jp.tadaimajp.com/2018/03/bar_botanical/

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AUTHOR

Amelie

Amelie

Writer / Translator

I’m French but I’ve been living in Tokyo for many years during which I had a lot of meaningful and thrilling experiences. I’m curious and I love learning new things. My hobbies are kick boxing, scuba diving, Japanese traditional painting, etc… As a writer, I’d like to share information about less touristic, more authentic places. I will also write about all the fun and cultural activities unique to Japan.

Information

Address 160-0007 Tokyo, Shinjuku-ku, Arakicho 16エスペロビル103
Hours Open every day from 6pm to 3am
Price 3,000-4,000yen
Close Every 1st Wednesday Month
Access About 7 minutes on foot from Yotsuya Sanchome station (Marunouchi line) and 2 on foot from Akebonobashi station (Shinjuku Line)
Phone 03-6380-6836
Language Japanese
English
Website http://bar-botanical.com/