Norwegian wood: Oslo's coolest bar hits Tokyo

Norwegian wood: Oslo's coolest bar hits Tokyo

Of coffee, cocktails and furniture -- Fuglen, the perfectionist Scando store opens in Japan
Fuglen Tokyo
European to its warm, woody heart -- Fuglen opened in Tokyo in May.

Fuglen’s Kenji Kojima is explaining why he uses coffee beans picked in Africa, roasted in Norway and flown to Tokyo to be squeezed in an AeroPress -- a fast-brew filter gizmo in the shape of a vacuum pump.

“Norway’s roasts are the lightest in the world,” he says. “They keep lots of acid, which makes the coffee fruity.”

He then expounds about the peaking point of roasts, the cracking point of coffee beans, the volume of gas emitted by the beans and all kinds of other minutiae you don’t need to know about on the drinking side of the bar.

Fuglen TokyoNorwegian café culture on the backstreets of Shibuya.

The point is this -- Kojima’s AeroPress coffee is unlike anything you’ve tried.

The Kangocho has notes of grapefruit and berries. La Amistad is all apples and pears. The Ndumberi could pass for mulled wine.

Kojima once worked for Paul Bassett Espresso in Shinjuku.

He then applied for a job at Fuglen -- it means “The Bird” in Norwegian -- the oh-so trendy café-bar in downtown Oslo.

Fuglen’s owners ignored his application, so he flew to Norway, pestered them in person and began work.

Kojima now runs the new Fuglen Tokyo.

By day it’s a café using fruity roasts for espresso and AeroPress coffees.

By night it’s a cocktail bar with unorthodox drinks such as the umami-packed Ikeda Martini (¥1,400, US$18), using kelp-infused gin, and the Reversed Manhattan (¥1,300, $16), which employs a chili-infused sweet vermouth.

Coals to Newcastle

Fuglen TokyoWilliam H. Macy gets deep into The Method at Fuglen.The recipes were dreamed up by Halvor Digernes, a famous-in-Norway bartender who studied the classics, then perverted them.

Take his Paris Tokyo (¥1,450, $18.50), a twist on the Parisian cocktail. He steeps oolong leaves in crème de cassis, then stirs it into dry gin and Norwegian sake.

That’s right, Norway makes sake. And Fuglen brings it to the home of sake.

Is it worth the bother? Not for the basic junmai-shu variety, but the yamahai motoshibori is special.

Served straight, it’s almost Amontillado sherry with a finish that goes on forever. In the Paris Tokyo, it sits quietly in the background, biding its time, then absolutely floors you with flavor.

The other cocktail highlight is the Hoppecat (¥1,300, $16).

It’s a highball of Bushmills Irish whiskey infused with cascade hops, blended with syrup from the wort of Baird Beer’s Angry Boy ale, shaken with egg white, grapefruit and lemon juice, then topped with soda and splashed with homemade grapefruit and hop bitters.

It sounds chaotic, but it comes together wonderfully.

Practice makes better

For a month before Fuglen Tokyo’s opening, the crew ran a test bar in a house near Shibuya.

To the right was Kojima with his coffee gear. To the left was Digernes and protégé Yumi Sato playing with homemade bitters, vinegar syrup, dandelion zest and test tubes of kooky infusions.

Digernes and I discussed the best kind of vanilla for a syrup.

“This is made with bourbon, though I prefer Tahitian,” he said.

“How about you?”

“Vanilla is vanilla,” I said.

“No, it’s not,” he said. And so it goes ...

Fuglen TokyoSato and Digernes spent a month locked away in their recipe room.

In the corner with his laptop was Peppe Trulsen, Fuglen co-owner and vintage furniture dealer.

It’s Trulsen who creates the Fuglen aesthetic of dark woods, retro colors and mid-century Norwegian design.

As he tells it, Sweden and Denmark are the noisy giants of Scandinavian design, but their wells are dry.

In Norway, he says, there’s still plenty to discover.

If you share Trulsen’s taste, you can take the furniture home. Everything is for sale, right down to the handwoven linen-and-straw wallpaper.

QR codes reveal the provenance and price of each item.

“Most vintage stores are just displays,” he says. “But here people can see it as a coffee bar or a cocktail bar. I think that makes it easier for people to adapt it to their home.”

So that’s Fuglen -- a furniture shop that happens to serve drinks. Or is it a café-cum-bar that also sells chairs?

Either way, it slots together nicely. Just don’t spill your coffee on the upholstery.

Fuglen, 1-16-11 Tomigaya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, +81 (0) 3 3481 0884, open 8 a.m.-late (Sunday from 10 a.m.),

More on CNNGo: Japan’s most incredible cup of coffee

Nicholas Coldicott is a contributing editor at Whisky Magazine Japan.

Read more about Nicholas Coldicott