If you’ve been to Tokyo, chances are good you’ve visited the cramped alleys around Golden Gai, the city’s famous shanty-town bar district. It’s known for tiny yokocho alley bars: minuscule drinking dens with a seating capacity you could count on one hand. Just a wooden bar, three or five stools, and some of the best whisky in the world. No biggie.
It was only a matter of time until someone thought to try it in Melbourne, and the result is Russell St’s newest pint-sized watering hole: Whisky Den.
Melbourne is no stranger to Japanese whisky bars (the excellent Hihou springs to mind), but this is the first time someone’s managed to replicate that yokocho hole-in-the-wall feel in the CBD. Whisky Den is small, there’s no getting around it. In fact there are just five seats at the bar, plus a small mezzanine level up top. But that intimacy actually fosters conversation.
“I come here when I’m in the city by myself,” says John O’Sullivan, a Whisky Den regular. “We all sit up at the bar and just talk. I’ve met so many amazing people this way. It’s a totally different style of drinking. It feels more like a community.”
The whisky range is encyclopedic, as you’d expect. Everything from silky Japanese amber to peaty Scottish malts (the Ardbeg ‘Dark Cove’ is a killer recent addition). The guys behind the bar are happy to educate whisky neophytes, discuss the merits of Highland vs Speyside, or mix highballs with the best of them. If you only order one cocktail though, make it an Old Fashioned. Kevin (ex Bar Americano) does one of the best in the city: a zesty orange sinus-blaster, using Old Forester from Kentucky.
Image credit: Jenna Fahey-White