Lines blur at Hakone’s Bar Hotel

I was drunk, of course, but I should have been. I was at nine and a bit in a stay at Bar Hotel Hakone Kazan, a Rubin’s vase from a retreat that can be considered either a bar-themed hotel or a bar-themed bar. hotel. Throughout my stay it wobbled, sometimes looking like a hostel with a drink motif, other times like a bar with beds.

The lines were blurring as I entered through large oak doors and met Ryuichi Yanagi, a bartender playing the receptionist role. Her reception was a fun creation: an elegant leather writing mat and fancy brass pen posed, throughout the champagne-fueled check-in process, at one end of a 13-inch teak bar counter. meters.

Further along the counter stood bartenders preparing drinks for guests who this Sunday night looked nothing like the tattered barflies I expected. They were all young, female and had arrived as a couple. I had also arrived as a couple, although my teammate was anxious about the trip, fearing that she would not have enough stamina. I was more confident. I had trained for this all my adult life.

The most unusual of a lot of unusual things about the bar / hotel is that you pay your drink bill before you arrive. More precisely, it is included in the price of your room. Because these rooms – spacious, chic, and located deep in Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture – are less expensive than some neighboring hostels, I had assumed the eating options would be sparse, to put it politely. They weren’t, however.

The menu was extensive and impressive. I counted 108 cocktails, from classic to experimental, arranged in a playful way under headings such as “Cocktail in the movie”, “Memories of the summer” and “Best cocktails in the world 2021”.

Corpse Reviver # 2 is made with gin, lemon, Cointreau, dry vermouth, wormwood and garnished with a sprinkle of mint cotton candy. | NICOLAS COLDICOTT

Those first nine hours and more on the scene involved a sparkling green apple and lavender that released a forest aroma perfectly suited to the sight; a Corpse Reviver # 2 (gin, lemon, Cointreau, dry vermouth, wormwood) topped with a spritz of mint cotton candy and instructions for dipping it to soften the taste; a lees infused vodka based Martini from Kikkawa Jozo, a brewery run by the same property development company that imagined, designed and operated the bar / hotel; a shiso-and-cucumber riff on Tommy’s Margarita (tequila, agave syrup, lime); and a convincing alcohol-free Negroni. Yanagi, who had completed his front desk duties and was now a bartender, explained that low-alcohol, non-alcoholic cocktails are popular with customers who want to get the most of the deal without getting too disorganized.

The “Let’s Wander All Over The World” page offered a tour of the drinking globe, from Monte Carlo (whiskey, Benedictine, bitters) to Acapulco (white rum, white curacao, lemon, sugar) to Singapore (the sling). My aversion to adventure led me to choose Tokyo, the city I had left earlier today. Hotel bar Jun Moue served the obscure My Tokyo (whiskey, Grand Marnier, lime), a cocktail invented in Osaka to coincide with the 1964 Olympics and now rarely spotted outside of his hometown.

There is no restaurant at the bar / hotel so we had dinner at the bar counter. A Hokkaido duck had given one of its legs to simmer in wine for my friend. Bartender Hiroki Mitsuyu accompanied it with a Paper Plane (bourbon, amaro, Aperol, lemon), whose bitterness pierced the sweet sauce.

The night we were there the bartenders were having a competition to choose a new permanent item for the menu. They clearly found 108 options insufficient and devised seven more. The winner would be determined according to criteria impossible to understand. My friend preferred an inspired drink called Carpaccio, which used white wine infused with a mixture of bonito and kelp broth. I chose a simple but superb pistachio infused Moscow mule. When I learned of the winner weeks later, it turned out it was neither. Instead, it was a creamy dessert called Rare Cheesecake.

At that time my friend felt the bar / hotel was the best bar and the best hotel we had been to. “I can relax here,” she said. “Not like in these sacred places.” It’s more damning of her than those places, but her point was this: Bartenders are adept at stretching their presentations up or down depending on their audience. No one felt intimidated, no one was patronizing.

Moue said the free flowing drink system made many visitors order tasting flights, which is what we did. He brought his four favorite gins, including a 1990’s bottling from Beefeater which was liquid silk and a fifth anniversary edition of Kyoto’s Ki No Bi which had red pine from Japan where the hinoki (cypress) usually goes. This led to a Ki No Bi theft. This triggered a theft of Glenfarclas whiskey. And then, at half past midnight, our bath was ready.

The private spa is equipped with a minibar, glasses and champagne on ice.  |  WITH THE AUTHORIZATION OF BAR HTEL HAKONE KAZAN
The private spa is equipped with a minibar, glasses and champagne on ice. | WITH THE AUTHORIZATION OF BAR HTEL HAKONE KAZAN

The bar / hotel has two large open-air communal baths and two private baths for rent with minibar, glassware and champagne on ice. As I sat in the private infinity-style spring overlooking the foliage of Hakone, I thought of all the aristocrats and emperors who had visited the area over the centuries and how they probably did. no minibar in their changing rooms.

At 3 a.m. Mitsuyu was alone in the main bar. Everyone had retired for the evening, and the only thing preventing him from doing the same was me. I ordered a Sidecar.

And so, after half past nine, I was quite drunk and continued to loot the minibar. The contents of this refrigerator depend a lot on the price of the room. The bar / hotel website shows a Krug room, in Krug colors, with bottles galore of the namesake champagne. There’s also a 132-square-meter Presidential Suite with a bar that looks like a destination in its own right. Our Superior Deluxe Suite had two bottles of Kirin Heartland Lager Beer and two of Sri Lankan Lion Stout. It was all I needed to settle on the gargantuan daybed and watch the late night TV goodies.

One of the channels broadcast a recording of a bonfire to the sound of Debussy’s Reverie, another broadcast images of a tram slipping through the streets of Prague. The two captivated me, but not as much as B channel SkyPer where a quartet of women in heels and cocktail dresses shared dating tips as they showed workouts for a bigger bust. Always choose a man who works hard, they said, for that makes you work harder and catch your stiletto heels while arching your back.

In the morning, after a galette brunch and all the Champagne that our hangovers could accommodate, all that remained was to sharpen for the trip. “We have four styles of coffee,” said the barista at the bar counter. “You can choose grains that have been soaked in gin, rum, red wine or a mixture of sake, shōchū and awamori. “

And so, I realized that it must be a bar, but in which we can go to sleep.

Bar Hotel Hakone Kazan is located at 507-4 Kowakudani, Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa Prefecture. For more information, visit barhotel.com.

In accordance with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is urging residents and visitors to exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, concert halls and other public spaces.

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Joshua B. Speller