If you haven’t heard of Holly Graham, now’s the time to take note. The London native has been living in Hong Kong for the last decade. She is the Managing Editor (International) of DRiNK Magazine, a Woodford Reserve Brand Ambassador, part of the educational panel for Tales of the Cocktail and now the proprietor of Tokyo Confidential, a cocktail bar celebrating high contrasts and delightful chaos which is now open in Tokyo’s Azabujuban neighbourhood.
The new bar draws inspiration from a house party that gets suitably rowdy, with warm hospitality and a home for everyone. The goal is to offer a bar that serves as an escape from the confines of society, allowing guests to forget life’s pressures and be their true selves, where they can feel fancy in an unpretentious manner.
With stunning views of Tokyo Tower from the bar’s balcony and rooftop space, Tokyo Confidential’s ethos is a nod to the iconic landmark that has served as a beacon of communication for the city. Whether alone or with friends, guests can expect the same memorable hospitality experience that champions inclusion, inviting visitors from all cultures and backgrounds to form connections and community in a safe space. The venue invites everyone to pull up, fess up and let loose in a hedonistic atmosphere with high-quality food and drinks – and a few fun surprises to discover.
The cozy yet modern Japanese interior is punctuated by vibrant art by Argentinian graphic designer and illustrator Alan Rhys Berry and US-based Ravi Zupa and eclectic trinkets such as Holly’s own Maneki-neko collection. “I was raised on classic Godzilla movies and traveled to Japan a fair bit over the last decade, so it’s really an homage to the country I love,” adds Graham. “Tokyo Confidential doesn’t have a coherent vein that runs through it, but in a way, that’s what makes it coherent.” At the heart of the venue is a show-stopping pine bar top carved from 300-year-old reclaimed shrine wood that snakes through the main room with no barriers, inviting guests to pull up right next to bartenders.
“I was raised on classic Godzilla movies and traveled to Japan a fair bit over the last decade, so it’s really an homage to the country I love.” – Holly Graham.
With the bar’s inclusive mission in mind, the range of signature cocktails to low- and no-ABV drinks by Graham and Head Bartender Wakana Murata offers something for everyone – without sacrificing on quality, even if you’re skipping the booze. The drinks showcase Japanese ingredients in creative ways, such as the stirred and spirit-forward Destroy All Monsters with miso brown butter-washed gin, manzanilla sherry, bianco vermouth and ponzu, or the effervescent Go Lightly with Doburoku, awamori, elderflower, tomato, verjus and sparkling wine. Expect cheeky nods to nostalgia, as well as drinks celebrating iconic places and people in the industry, as seen with Julio’s House featuring tequila, agave nectar, roasted lime, ancho brine and Sel de Gusano, a homage to Graham’s agave mentor and Tommy’s Margarita creator Julio Bermejo.
Celebrating the duo’s love of agave and Champagne, the cocktail menu is accompanied by an extensive selection of both, with rare and exclusive pours by the glass for a taste of indulgence. “Something that irks me is the barrier of entry to Champagne. I want people to be able to have a glass of something expensive without splurging out on a whole bottle, so we’ll have a wider selection of bubbles by the glass,” notes Graham. The bar will also offer a “Drink Up” concept whenever the team gets their hands on something special, giving guests a chance to try unique spirits, wines or Champagnes by the glass in a break-even approach. Tokyo Confidential also features a handsome collection of lockers above the bar which offers guests the opportunity to rent a locker and “Lock Up” a bottle from a curated list of exceptionally premium spirits.
Five quick Q’s with Holly Graham
How did you end up opening a bar in Japan? (like, do you speak Japanese?)
My now partners approached me a year ago, and it took a lot of deliberation as I loved my home of Hong Kong, where I’d been for the last decade. But I adore Japan and it seemed like the right time to move and step up to the challenge. I don’t speak Japanese, but have been able to pick up the language in my previous homes of Thailand and Korea, so I’m hoping it’s the same story here!
What’s it like straddling the worlds of media & bar owner?
Being a bar owner is extremely tiring yet rewarding, so I’ve had to park my writing work a little bit for now but looking forward to being able to strike a balance in the future as well as getting to work on a new book. That said, depending on how Tokyo Confidential goes – and it’s been fantastic so far – I may have to relinquish! Time will tell.
“Everyone talks about the practicalities of opening a bar – like concept, construction, finances etc – but rarely do they discuss the emotional side of it.”
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I really hope Tokyo Confidential is going strong and self-sufficient, and I hope to expand in Japan. It’s my dream to work closely with a chef and create something like LEO and La Sala De Laura in Bogota, Colombia. I’ll also have turned 40 in five years so may need to slow down a bit ha!
Biggest lesson you’ve learnt opening Tokyo Confidential
Everyone talks about the practicalities of opening a bar – like concept, construction, finances etc – but rarely do they discuss the emotional side of it. Your emotions, your team’s emotions, the emotions of guests etc. It’s highly important and I am working on a seminar in the hope of spreading that message and hone in on its importance in bars.
Favourite bar in Tokyo (other than yours!)
I love so many but more often than not I find myself at The Bellwood. It’s chill, cozy, the team is dope and the flavour profiles of the cocktails are amazing.
CORRECTION: In the print edition of Australian Bartender magazine, it was stated that Holly is from Australia. She is actually from London. Apologies for trying to claim her as our own!