World-Class Bartender Shingo Gokan Shares His Travel Faves
Find out about the best hangover cure, beloved destinations and what the 2017 International Bartender of the Year has been up to as he circumnavigates the globe.
There’s a little sliver of Atlanta’s tony Buckhead neighborhood where your odds of running into an A-list Hollywood celebrity are mathematically amplified. Flanked by the St. Regis Atlanta on one end and the upscale Peachtree Road shopping center Buckhead Atlanta on the other, this sedate, immaculately landscaped piazza surrounded by skyscrapers and office buildings is home to what most agree is the city’s most elevated sushi experience Umi, and its sister speakeasy Himitsu (Japanese for “secret”), a dark, discrete boite where you need a password or (for regulars) a retinal scan to enter.
A night at Umi and nightcap at Himitsu looks something like this: world class sushi is flown in daily from Japan, and served in one of the most dimly lit, glamorous spaces in Atlanta. Anthony Hopkins, Daniel Craig, Jennifer Lawrence, Drake and Liam Hemsworth have all stopped by for the hyper-attentive service (a mere nod is all you need to get things done) and absurdly fresh, next-level sushi prepared by sushi chefs who truly care about their art. Post-meal, pretty hostesses in all black escort guests to Himitsu where you are “checked in” by a tall man in a suit. He presses a button to open an interior door that slides sideways like a 007 special effect, to reveal a jewel box bar designed by England’s Tom Dixon in shades of gold, royal blue and green, green cash.
To continue a night of top-flight food and drink, guests can experience conceptually crafted cocktails masterminded by world-class bartender Gokan, who won last year’s International Bartender of the Year award at New Orleans' Tales of the Cocktail.
If top sushi chef Fuyuhiko Ito reigns at Umi, then Himitsu is entirely Gokan’s domain, a place where his globe-trotting travels (he’s averaging 80 flights a year these days) inspire the cocktail menu which mashes up American cocktail culture, Gokan’s Japanese heritage and the alchemic things that happen when top-of-the-line ingredients and conceptual flights of fancy involving smoke, wagyu fat, egg white and other delicious magic tricks ensue. Adding to his portfolio of international destination drinking, this June Gokan opened The SG Club (divided into two floors: Sip and Guzzle) in his native Tokyo neighborhood of Shibuya.
Travel Channel caught up with Gokan as he stopped in at Himitsu to train the staff in some new recipes including a “Cola” cocktail. Inspired by a recent trip to South America, Cola may be a near sacrilege in a town like Atlanta founded on Coca-Cola money, but it typifies the cheeky, smart, historically-grounded craftsmanship behind Gokan’s art-of-the-tipple. Gokan’s variation on a rum and Coke, the utterly sippable, froth-topped magic trick involves a homemade cola Gokan devised that definitely tastes like the real thing.
What’s the best thing about being on the road?
That’s how I get inspiration, everything is from traveling. I like to meet new people, culture, new ingredients.
Jet lag. I travel all the time and I never get used to it.
Any hangover cures?
Any soup; clear, not too heavy. And water with lemon. Simple and easy things. When I’m in Southeast Asia I always have coconut water.
When did you first get interested in cocktails?
When I was 18 years old. I was just looking for my part-time job and I wanted to take some creative job either a chef or a pastry chef, or a bartender and I took the interview for a pastry chef and I failed and I found a bartender job.
Place on your travel bucket list?
I really want to go to Morocco, India and Egypt. And I’ve also never been to any Nordic country.
Favorite cocktail city and bar?
London. The Savoy is always my favorite because of the history. When I was a teenager I bought The Savoy Cocktail Book, it’s a bartender’s bible. Then when I was 30 I had a guest bartender shift at the Savoy; I think I was the first and last in Savoy history.
Favorite city you visited in 2017?
Chiang Mai, Thailand
What did you like about it?
The people, the food, the culture, it’s very chill, very natural. There’s no beach but it still has a nice tropical vacation feeling.
Other favorite recent travel stops?
Havana and Hiroshima
If you are traveling and want a cocktail, is there a particular standard cocktail you order when you’re at a bar and aren’t sure the bartender is any good?
A bloody Mary.
Aisle or window?
Aisle, because my friends told me that with window seats you get a little more radiation. I’m not sure this is true, but I’m always traveling, so at least I’m trying to reduce radiation. And it’s easy to go the restroom.
Are there certain things you need in your hotel room to make you feel comfortable?
I really like a massage. I try to get a massage at least once a month.
Favorite vacation destination?
The beach: Hawaii or Thailand
The Japanese are known for their politeness and consideration for others. What’s your favorite Japanese custom or trait?
Focus. Polishing the very small details, your technique or your palate.