Boozehound: Keel (Shibuya)
It’s Men-Only (except on Sundays), we’ll put that up front.
Keel is a nice combination of local and stylish. The owner hangs around dispensing wisdom and recommendations on shochu, which is what this bar is all about. (Umeshu – including a lovely yuzu-infused delight – and beer are the other options. The only other options.)
You can park at the small horseshoe-shaped bar and enjoy the wit of the long-time barman or do as yours truly did and go past the bar to the chairs and the soft sofa surrounding the large metal trunk that acts as a table. It’s December, so I had a clear view of the street below out of the big window, but I reckon that window would be a sight to see come Spring – there’s a very large cherry blossom tree almost touching the glass.
Imo (sweet potato) is the hip word in shochu for this generation and dominates the clusters of bottles at Keel as well, but this is no drawback. I myself had thought I was lukewarm about the stuff, but I was oh-so-wrong. The variety of flavors in the drinks I had went from the mild, odorless, almost tasteless clarity normally associated with mugi-zochu (wheat) or high-end vodka (sort of the same thing, when you think about it) to a tasty golden-ish, almost whisky-esque tipple, to the standard, strong-smelling imo-zochu I was used to.
Equally delightful was the wide range of kokuto-zochu (brown sugar), the rising star of the shochu world. What the real hipsters drink. What can I say? It tastes very little like rum, which I think is generally a good thing, and is all-around awesome.
Ordering is easy at Keel. You can have a variety of imo-zochu or kokuto-zochu and fewer mugi-zochu, in any style – most for 800 yen, with a few specialties for 1000 yen.
Keel is in Shibuya, out the West exit of the South Gate of Shibuya station, behind the JTB building. For a map and specific directions, take a look at Access” on Keel’s site.