[Editor's note: We thought we were on to a safe bet with this one, seeing as how it only opened in May, but it appears that Uemura Nihei has already closed.]
Like many a bar we’ve come across over the years, Nihei broadcasts its fashionable ambitions with animal print—in this case, the wine-red snakeskin that covers the walls. The main focal point is a long polished wood bar, lined with cushy ivory seats, the same color as the sofas in the private room. There are also the requisite chandeliers and gilded mirrors that add up to what local copywriters have dubbed the “gorgeous” look. Blame it on the soundtrack of Lady Gaga and Fergie, but we couldn’t help feeling like Nihei might have been better suited to Shibuya or Roppongi.
The lounge occupies the top floor of a six-story building, and the best seat in the house seemed to be the rounded corner booth pressed up against a picture window. From this vantage point at dinnertime on a balmy Saturday in June, we could watch young couples and rowdy soccer fans milling about below. The Japan game scheduled later that night might have explained why we were the only customers in the place.
In retrospect, a better strategy would have been to face the bar and press the young guys behind the counter for nihonshu knowledge. This is, after all, what Nihei is going for, and the lounge succeeds most in its unpretentious, friendly vibe.
On the sake front, the menu offers over 30 varieties, collected from breweries spanning the length of Japan and priced mostly at ¥450 for 90cc. Going for convenience (and quantity) over quality, we opted for the tasting set of six 60cc servings for ¥2,000. These, along with the free glasses we got with our GuruNavi coupon, turned out to be an impressive amount of liquor to stare down at once.
The drinkable—though not particularly memorable—selection served as a handy introduction for imbibers getting acquainted with sake and working out which they prefer. Unfortunately, we were too light-headed in the aftermath to look into the more serious stuff. If you want to splurge, though, you could do far worse than the Shimeharitsuru “Gold Label” Junmai Daiginjo from Niigata (¥1,200) or Houken Daiginjo from Hiroshima (¥1,400).
Instead, we took to the food menu. Along with casual Kansai dishes like takoyaki (¥800) and doteyaki (beef sinew simmered in miso paste, ¥200 per skewer), Nihei offers some eclectic originals. Inventions like kanzuri shutou (spicy pickled bonito) with cream cheese (¥600) and pickled daikon with mascarpone (¥650) are designed to accompany sake, and give wine bar snacks a run for their money. They aren’t as alarming as they sound, either.