What: Shin Gi Tai
Where: 9 Haji Lane, level 2
Opening hours: 6pm to 12am. Closed Sundays.
Focusing on classic cocktails presented with no-fuss Japanese-style precision, Shin Gi Tai is the back-to-basics bar you never knew you needed. Let’s face it, the booming cocktail scene here has sent barmen into a froufrou frenzy whenever a customer says, “surprise me”.
Say that to head barman Anthony Zhong though, and he will politely and very genuinely suggest you try the other cocktail bars in the area. Having cut his teeth at Coffee Bar K in Ginza, Zhong brings Japanese meticulousness to his cocktails, evident in his bartending manner and perfectly balanced drinks. He even does bartending “warmup” exercises before opening, which include rigorous shaking and the Tokyo Kaikan style of stirring without a sound.
The bar is unintentionally nondescript but gets enough customers from word of mouth alone. And the people who disappear behind the sign-less door usually know exactly what they want, and how they want it. There’s no menu, because you should know your classics. There’s no need for me to explain how the martinis and negronis were, because you know what they taste like.
One exception is Zhong’s own creation, the Yakuza Bad Boy, a powerful digestif combining Calvados, cognac and Grand Marnier, and there’s an accompanying back story you’ll want to ask him about.
The food menu consists of bar staples like cheese and charcuterie, as well as Japanese comfort food like duck curry udon and oden (a winter fishcake stew). It’s a lean selection because Zhong prepares everything himself — even the broths and soup bases.
Shin Gi Tai doesn’t want to impress Instagram tipplers (you know who you are). It just wants to serve you good, stiff drinks that did their job just fine for the last 200 years.
Best bits: Real people drinking real cocktails.