The windows all but surrounding you reveal Downtown Las Vegas. But once you acknowledge it—and accept the hot, damp towel from lead bartender and mixologist Seong Ha Lee—the immersive atmosphere and experience of 365 Tokyo will keep your attention inside.
The 10-seat bar on the second level of Inspire Theater—both operated by Future Restaurant Group, entrepreneur Michael Cornthwaite’s consortium of Downtown venues—is a transportive space that puts you into one of Japan’s intimate, high-end cocktail rooms. Upscale Asian-themed bars aren’t new to the States, but even Cornthwaite was hard-pressed to find one as authentic or progressive as those he reveled in during a Tokyo visit nearly four years ago. “It’s something you might expect to find in the Mandarin Oriental, but it’s in Downtown Las Vegas, which I think is notable,” he says.
Also notable: The space has no official name (365 Tokyo is the translation of the iconography); the selection of jazz vinyl listed on the back of the menu, a nod to Japanese bar culture’s preferred soundtrack; and that you can’t enter without an Inspire Theater membership, though once you scan its amenities, you’ll attempt to justify the $200 yearly dues.
I did that after wolfing down my Guinness Smoothie, a slushie-like preparation of the revered Irish stout. That’s one of Ha Lee’s incorporations of liquid nitrogen on his seasonal drink menu, which includes signature and traditional cocktails, siphon drinks (such as the exquisite Valencia, which is lightly carbonated in house via a “soda charger”), high-end shooters (like the Dark Tornado, which features ingredients stirred in like a twister); and the collaborative offering known as Bartender’s Choice. My drinking companion selected the latter, which turned out to be a simple wine cooler that might just beat any sangria in town.
Cornthwaite deputized Ha Lee as the bar’s creative mastermind after discovering the Seoul-born mixologist’s decorated pedigree and enduring a five-month quest to procure a work visa—and 365’s cultural legitimacy. “The concept was so special and so important to creating an unexpected experience when you walk in through that door, it was worth the risk, time and effort,” Cornthwaite says. “That’s the way you should feel: I’m going through a portal into some little tiny place that could exist in any country or big city.” But it only exists in this big city.
365 Tokyo Inspire Theater, visit frglv.com for more info.