Issue 35 | 5 Minutes With
5 MINUTES WITH
AKINORI TOSHIRO & YOKO TOSHIRO of TOSHIRO’S BAR
Located on the second storey of J-Sekka building in Hirafu, Toshiro’s is one of the best bars in Niseko, and the perfect place to go to enjoy good cocktails as well as laid-back conversations. Toshiro’s was the winner of the Best Bar in The Best Of Niseko Award 2018. We had a chat with owner and award-winning bartender Akinori Toshiro and his wife Yoko Toshiro, who’s also the okami (proprietress who greets you in kimono), about how Toshiro’s in Niseko started, their inspirations for their cocktails, and their new gin bar at the Prince Hotel Hirafu Tei.
Tell us a little about how Toshiro’s bar began?
Akinori Toshiro (AT): My wife Yoko Toshiro and I were originally from Sapporo. I worked as a bartender at Keio Plaza Hotel from 2004 – 2009, and thereafter as a bar manager in Niseko before starting Toshiro’s Bar in 2014. We opened our second bar at Prince Hotel Hirafu Tei in 2018.
Has anything changed since you started Toshiro’s 5 years ago?
AT: We have grown our collection from 200 different bottles to 400–500 [bottles]. The après scene in Niseko is growing; aperitifs before dinner and Japanese whiskies after dinner are getting popular. There are more Asian customers in recent years, and we shifted slightly from being a busy cocktail bar to an après cocktail and whisky bar.
Wow, that’s a huge collection. Where do you source your collection from?
AT: As a member of the Hotel Barman Association (the only one in Niseko), I get direct connections to distilleries and breweries from Japan and all over the world. We exchange and share the latest information. It’s a very special network, and it allows me to continue to learn and grow in this industry.
Where did your love for making cocktails come from?
AT: Making cocktails is very similar to cooking, only much quicker. With cocktails, you get to interact with customers. It is a direct relationship, and for me, it is very gratifying.
One of your most popular cocktails is Smoked Penicillin. Where did the idea come from?
AT: I had the idea of smoking a cocktail. I created Smoked Penicillin using whisky, ginger, lemon juice and smoked it with Sichuan (hua jiao) pepper, smoked salt, and Suntory whisky barrel chips.
What are the 3 must-try cocktails at Toshiro’s?
Yoko Toshiro (YT): For a low-alcohol cocktail, try the Toshiro’s Tonic, or a little higher in alcohol – Ginger Gimlet, and Smoked Penicillin.
How do you go about creating an omakase (chef’s choice) cocktail order?
AT: I’d usually start by asking the customer their preference for the base alcohol – if they preferred gin, vodka, or whisky. I’m also inspired by the colours the customers are wearing, at times, by their earrings and ties as well!
What would you like the customer to experience at Toshiro’s?
YT: We would like our customers to feel relaxed at Toshiro’s, and enjoy the atmosphere here.
AT: Toshiro’s is a seated bar (not a standing bar), we keep the volume of the music low, and lights dimmed, to create a nice atmosphere for drinks and good conversations. I made some stained glass lampshades in summer using recycled whisky bottles. I’d like to give the space a personalised touch.
What’s your bar at Hirafu Tei like? How is it different to this bar at J-Sekka?
YT: Our bar at Hirafu Tei is mainly a gin bar. We serve over 70 types of gin, and unique signature cocktails, which are only available there. Toshiro’s at Hirafu Tei has a beautiful night view of the ski slopes from the windows.
What’s your plan for Toshiro’s this year?
AT: I’d like to make more stained glass lamps, and fill the space with more of them. It’s fun and it’d make the space more beautiful.
Interview by Jacinta Sonja.