Iyaiya Sanbai: A Contemporary Izakaya with Traditional Roots

Iyaiya Sanbai Izakaya Restaurant in Tokyo

Given the elegant surroundings of Iyaiya Sanbai, it’d be easy to think that the label “izakaya” is a PR misnomer chosen for its broad and familiar appeal. But that’s exactly the point. Iyaiya Sanbai has all the personality and heart of the best izakaya but with the looks and mannerisms of an upscale bistro.

Iyaiya Sanbai Tokyo

Counter seats at Iyaiya Sanbai.

Gone are the sticky wooden tables and plastic posters; instead a Richard Serra print hangs near a gleaming bar stacked with Hibiki whiskey and rare sake from premium manufacturers across Japan. The dove gray walls are offset by the wood interiors, while warm-colored Edison bulbs hang in the place of the usual LED strip lights, making for the perfect #eatingfortheinsta hue.

Plus, there’s one added refreshment, the place is completely smoke-free. For two experienced izakaya-goers fed up with the lingering stench of cigarettes after what feels like every evening meal anywhere in the city—this is a godsend.

Premium sake paired with premium ingredients

Seating 40 guests, an arrangement of high bar stools and intimate tables create a cozy and casual atmosphere where you can while away the hours in after-work conversation—exactly what my friend and I were here to do.

Glancing over the drinks selection after a long week, we knew there was only one thing to be ordered: sake! With a choice of fruity, fresh, or dry, we opted for a glass of Mie and Iwate Prefectures’ finest local brew and settled into deciding on our meals.

What looked like classic izakaya menu choices were penned on hanging paper around the central counter. But as two visitors who are not yet well versed in Japanese, and a menu heavy on kanji, we asked our hostess Oki-san to …continue reading