Tables toward the front of the room offer more space
Top-notch craft beers
Too-light food; visitors must elbow their way through the teenyboppers to get there
2F, 1-20-13 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
Nearest station: Harajuku
Open Mon-Fri 5pm-midnight, Sat-Sun & hols noon-midnight
Harajuku is a neighborhood with many attractions, but good beer has never been one of them. Until now. Shizuoka-based Baird Brewing Company, one of Japan’s most respected craft beer makers, has opened its new pub right in the middle of the action.
The area is certainly an odd choice for the brewer’s second Tokyo bar (the first taproom, in Nakameguro, opened in 2008). Locals are known to be passionate about boy bands like Arashi and Kat-Tun, but not so much about stout and porter. Office workers here tend to prefer bottled Asahi to expertly drawn IPA.
Harajuku Taproom offers an antidote to all that. Its atmosphere is soberly pub-like—wood dominates the scene, and an improbably long row of taps pokes out from the wall behind the bar. The counter winds through the length of the interior, enclosing a tiny kitchen and extending to a corner beneath a wall-mounted TV.
The space provides a low-key backdrop for enjoying Baird’s highly regarded and uniformly excellent beers. Nine varieties are available year-round, ranging from the light (Wheat King Ale; 4.2 percent alcohol) to the fierce (Angry Boy Brown Ale; 6.2). Prices start at ¥350 for a “taster” to ¥900 for a pint. A separate seasonal menu features several other brews, including the Dark Sky Imperial Stout, which packs a wallop at 8.5 percent (¥1,500/633ml bottle). We’re big fans of IPA, and were delighted with both of Baird’s, though we were confused by the way that some pints were served in a standard Imperial glass, while others were poured as smaller, American-style “pints.”
As pleasurable as the beer is to drink, it’s also a delight to read about. Harajuku Taproom’s menu includes lengthy descriptions of all the brews on offer, including a few gems. Numazu Lager is “fantastically round yet snappy”; Jubilation Ale is “festively red-hued”; Dark Sky Imperial Stout “is unctuous in body, elusively complex in flavor, warming in alcohol and piquantly hoppy.” We’ll have one of those!
While the pub’s setting is urban and its beers sophisticated, the food emphasizes Baird’s inaka roots. Punters in search of comfort fare like shepherd’s pie or bangers and mash had better look elsewhere. Several varieties of dried fish are on offer (¥500), as well as niku-jaga (¥500) and a full menu of yakitori (¥250). We particularly enjoyed the vegetable skewers, including shiitake, eggplant and small green shishito peppers.
The opening of a new craft beer bar is always cause for delight, and Baird’s Harajuku outpost is no different. Although we doubt that locals will suddenly be won over to the merits of dark porters and amber ales, beer lovers like us can enjoy a clubhouse of our own.