Straight up refers to an alcoholic drink served neat without the addition of ice, water or any other lengthening agent. In other words…straight to the point
…I decided to live as a bartender and die as a bartender. It was my destiny.
From Ginza, Tokyo, Japan, Hidetsugu Ueno is one of the leaders of Japanese bartending, with a dedicated following of drink aficionados across Tokyo. In 1992 he started as a bartender in Ginza, in the year 2000 he became head bartender and manager of the renowned and authentic bar in Star Bar Ginza. It was here where he entertained the opulent and celebrated with his skilful and illustrious diamond ice carving. On the 4th of July 2008, he opened his own bar called Bar High Five in Ginza and now flies all over the world acting as a missionary of Japanese styles of bartending.
How did it all begin? Where did you start and what inspired you to become the bartender that you are today, anyone worth mentioning? Any career influences past and current?
It is a long story. I never wanted to become a bartender. I could not really stomach alcohol and did not have an appreciation for the service industry back then. Ironically, as strange as this may sound, my entire working career I only have worked within the service industry, which included part time jobs whilst I was a university student. I had aspirations of owning and operating a coffee shop, but soon realised that I could not rely on serving only coffee. As time passed by, working as a bartender, I realised that the craft of bartending has no end, like the summit of a mountain, there was no point I could reach. I needed to be focused at all times, as if it were my last. Every single cocktail I served, even if it were the ones I had made countless of times, I treated every situation differently. I decided to live as a bartender and die as a bartender.
Bartenders talk about being passionate /or having a liking towards the industry, personally I do not think you need to be. Your business hours start at x, it is like the theatre, you have to act. The curtain begins to open, your personal character might not be needed. It does not matter, your customers could not even be bothered if you are tiresome, depressed and/ or in a foul mood or even if you have a really bad headache/stomach ache, you have to be at your best at all times. Do not get me wrong, if you really are that passionate, even better. I only have one mentor; his name is Mr Hisashi Kishi who owns “Star Bar Ginza”, which is one of the most famous bars in all of Japan. All of my experience that I have passed has been naturally influenced by his career.
…You really need to have a strong heart and above all immeasurable patience.
Being heavily involved in the industry for many years, was there a period in your life where you decided to change career paths? The industry perceived by many in South Africa and possibly in many parts of the world in my opinion is seen as not a viable career choice but somewhat a basic means to generate income on the side, what are your thoughts on this? Do you think there is a global shift in attitude towards this?
I am deeply involved on the international stage though it won’t be forever. I am honoured to be involved in this industry and 100% happy to be behind the bar at Bar High Five. I have my own place to live. That is all I need, everything else is secondary.
It is the same here in Japan. It is very difficult to make a living being a bartender, one is not remunerated greatly, long hours and countless sacrificing. You really need to have a strong heart and above all immeasurable patience. People may say “work hard” and leave with silence, you need to decide in some point in your life to live as a bartender.
The situation is no different. Personally, I do not think there is a global shift. Each and every person has a different opinion on the craft of bartending in each country. Bartending is one of the lowest earning occupations in Japan. People who venture to bars do not think in this manner but to others they envision the occupation to be that of the railroad of life.
What are your goals / aspirations within the industry?
As I mentioned, there is no goal/end, at least for me. I only wish that when I turn around my bygone days in my closing life I did not live without a sense of regret/happiness. There is no bigger aspiration than that. There is nothing really I could do for the industry, I only do things that I can do. If I could leave some form of legacy behind, that would be an honour.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I honestly have no idea. I have some future plans but they are constantly changing. Life is not always as easy, even if it is in the foreseeable future.
Any awards or accolades worth mentioning?
*4th of July 2008 - Present
Owner Bartender, BAR HIGH FIVE
No.26 Pole Star Bldg. 4F, 7-2-14, Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061 Japan
*December 2000－July 2008
Head Bartender, STAR BAR GINZA
*May 1992－November 2000
Bartender, Lounge Bar Nobuko
Bartender Association Related Experience
Executive Director, Nippon Bartenders’ Association
*April 2008－May 2012
Director, International Department, Nippon Bartenders’ Association
*April 2007－November 2011
Representative-Far East, Education Development Committee,
International Bartenders’ Association
*2004 National Champion, Bacardi-Martini Grand Prix 2004
Silver Prize, Bacardi-Martini Grand Prix 2004
*2000 Short Cocktail Winner, Beefeater International Cocktail Competition.
*1999 Finalist, Suntory The Cocktail Competition
*1996, 1997, 1998 Finalist, Takara Cocktail Competition
*1995 Bronze Medal, Pastis Cocktail Competition
*1994 Finalist, Bols International Cocktail Competition
*Judge Brands’ Local and Global Finals, 2008~
*Technical Jury for W.C.C. and Judge for international competitions, 2007~
*Judge National Competition, 2005~
*2007 I.B.A. Certificate of International Bartender Qualification
*1997 N.B.A. Official Bartender Technical License Qualification
*1992 N.B.A. Official Bartender License Certificate
Masterclass, Presentation, Workshop Giving Experience
*2008 Taiwan, New Zealand
*2009 Taiwan, Paris, London, Berlin, Vienna, Moscow
*2010 New York, Hamburg, Havana, Hong Kong, Belfast, Sydney, Moscow, Berlin, Barcelona,
*2011 Taiwan, Seoul, New Delhi, New Orleans, Berlin, Stockholm
*2012 Moscow, Taiwan, Shanghai, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London, Singapore, Jakarta, Rio de
Janeiro, Warsaw ~
*2009 NO.1, World’s Top 20 Bars; Asia-Pacific, Australian Bartender Magazine
*2009 Nominee, World’s Best Cocktail Bar of the Year, Tales of the Cocktail 2009
*2011 Nominee, World’s Best Cocktail Bar of the Year, Tales of the Cocktail 2011
…You can imagine why the Japanese style of bartending got increasingly popular overnight?
If you weren’t working behind the bar, what would you be doing?
It might be mundane to hear but how about you? Can you think of anything? We all have life decisions to make and I am not at the age to talk about having aspirations to be a professional baseball/football player. It was my destiny to become a bartender.
On Bartending in Japan and the Japanese Hard Shake?
Japanese bartending and the Hard Shake are not equal. The Hard Shake is a personal technique which is not typical. The word “Hard Shake” in itself is now walking alone related with the Japanese style of bartending.
With the Diageo Reserve World Class 2012 Programme being held in Rio, Brazil, June, what were you expecting from the competition and the competitors itself? In your personal opinion how does one stand out above the rest in a competition of such magnitude?
Personally, what I am looking for are great drinks that are simply amazing, which leave a lasting impression. In this particular competition you can see the bartenders’ personality, not only in the drinks they portray but their interpretation on the craft of bartending within their daily lives.
The competition covers almost every aspect of bartending, then again, how many brands/companies could do the same thing? Not many. It is 10‐12 month programme which includes education and national preliminary heats. There is nothing like it.
What trends and techniques are you currently seeing within the industry?
In Japan we focus entirely on the classics, the vintage way of bartending and not on current trends. There are some trends and techniques that I personally like; People are starting to make their own bitters and vermouths. In saying this, I do believe bartenders should be good at using available products, not making products. There are plenty of products that one can play with. Speakeasy style of bars, vintage books, Mescal in the United States and Rye Whisky in Europe…they are all just trends personally. You can imagine why the Japanese style of bartending got increasingly popular overnight? We are the ones who are constantly surprising. The Japanese style of bartending has not changed in the past 100 years. The rest of world is always looking for something new, something different. We are always focusing on the classics and interpreting those classics in our own way, meticulously and effortlessly.
What are some of your favourite tools?
For some unknown reason I always seem to get this question, maybe I am the only one who thinks this. Tools are tools at the end of the day. I just use them in the right manner inconjuction with the right drink.
Any particular drink you enjoy making?
Nope. Well, then again, I do enjoy making what my guests want.
Favourite Spirit Category / Brand and why?
I don’t have any particular favourite. I use whatever I think that is right for that particular drink.
Any resources / mixology related material worth mentioning?
Any celebrities you have served behind the bar or showcased your ability?
I could not be bothered on how celebrated/what profession/position one is. Every patron is equal in my bar. I have my own bar in the highest end in our country called Ginza, where many celebrated persons have entered, I’m the low in my bar and all have to follow the rules.
If you could be any classical drink what would it be and why?
I don’t entirely get this question but my signature classic cocktail called the “White Lady”, is enjoyed by many bartenders and guests. I hope this answer covers this question…
Any short pieces of advice you could share to aspiring bartenders? What is your ingredient for success?
It depends what your goals/aspirations are, whatever this is, you always have to think to yourself “why”. Why I am I doing this, why do I think in this manner, why, why, why. You always have to look for a better solution. Is this the best possible way, is there any better way? You always have to ask yourself this. I have never worked for customers. I always work for myself, the bartenders and my bar. I always think to myself what I would want if I were seated on the other side of the bar. I always think what makes me happy in that particular situation.
None. I don’t drink that much at all.
First drink you ever tasted?
This I do not remember but whatever it was, it wasn’t good :)
Worst experience working behind the bar?
When I have no customers.
Personally, cocktails for are for serving, not for drinking.
Favourite Bar and why?
Star Bar Ginza, it has everything when I grew up as a bartender.
Favourite World Location?
It is quite difficult to choose a particular favourite. I always have the most wonderful experiences on my travels.
…the alchemist says