Long before I had the chance to visit Japan, I’d long had a fascination with Japanese cocktail culture – partly for their precision and dedication to their craft, and partly for the omotenashi (hospitality) of their white-buttoned-up bartenders.
So it was an absolute blessing when I first walked into Odin, a small, unassuming bar just off the busy streets of BKK1, and was introduced to Mr. Ryoichi Shimoda — a bartender who embodies the very identity that has become almost synonymous with Japanese bartending. Shimoda’s precise but fluid movements, his use of crystal clear ice in every cocktail, and the impeccable service he offers are all traits easily recognisable by any fan of Japan.
Mr. Ryoichi Shimoda
Aside from the welcoming presence of Mr. Shimoda, what further sets Odin apart from the many bars in the Kingdom (placing it firmly in my “let’s go for a nightcap” category) is its floor-to-ceiling shelves of whiskeys from around the world. With close to 100 different bottles, this may be the largest public whiskey collection in the Kingdom. And while the number may seem small for a spirit specialist bar, it is in fact a great feat of achievement when you take into consideration that a lot of these bottles had to be hand-carried into the country (given the lack of rare whiskey importation). As a result, this collection, which has been amassed over the course of five years, has been carefully curated with a focus on quality over quantity. Everything has a sense of place.
Walking into the bar, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that you were still in the Kingdom. Upon entry, you are greeted warmly by Mr. Shimoda (the sole bartender – and now the owner), who calls out in Japanese and bows from behind the long wooden bar top that runs the entire length of the narrow room. With enough space at the counter to sit about 6 and a small alcove in the corner that seats 4, Odin feels calming and uncluttered, capturing the essence of the traditional small Japanese bar. This makes sense, given that it was modelled after its sister bar in Japan, Odin Tokyo, which has been operating for 25 years.
On a recent visit, I organised an interview with Mr. Shimoda so that I could shine a spotlight on him and on Odin, which still remains a relatively hidden gem. With a little help from Google Translate, we had a fun talk about whiskey, his daily routine, and his love for bartending.
Hi Mr. Shimoda. Thank you so much for your time. So, could you tell me where you are from?
Shizuoka, near Mt. Fuji
So how did you end up in Cambodia?
Odin was previously in Tokyo [for 25 years]. The owner wanted to open a site in Cambodia.
That is quite the move. So what is your background, and where did you learn to bartend?[Before bartending], I worked in sushi [as a] sushi server. [I then] worked for two years in Odin in Tokyo [before the owner chose to open a venue in Phnom Penh].
So how long has Odin Cambodia been around for?[It has] been open for 5 years, but was previously in Koh Pich. [We] moved because of a lack of people.
Looks like you’ve found a home here now. How many bartenders do you now have?
One. Just me.
And when are you open?
Everyday. From 6pm -3am.
So, when is your day off?
I work every day. I only take off Khmer New Year, Pchum Ben [and] Water Festival.
Wow! That makes me feel lazy. So what do you love about bartending?
I can’t think of an answer. *smiles*[Bartending] is a hobby. [It’s] not a job.
I would love to hear about your day. What is your routine?
*Google translates my question and then smiles*
I sleep at 5am [and] wake up [between] 9am or 10am. I eat, watch the news and some YouTube. At 12pm [I work on the bar] think about new food [and] drinks. At 5pm, I set up the bar [for] 6pm service. [The bar] closes at 3am. [And I’m] in bed by 5am.
Wow. I definitely feel lazy. Let’s talk about whiskey. Which is your favourite?
- Editors note – Littlemill whiskey was a Scottish malt distillery that closed down in 1994. Odin has some of their range.
And your favourite cocktail?
Whiskey sour with Jamesons.
Nice! So what is next for Odin?
In November we move sites. We have to move. We cannot renew the contract [with the owner]. So [we are looking] for a bigger place in BKk1.
Odin is a gem in the city, and while many may initially visit for a taste of its curated whiskey collection, there is no denying that most return to see Mr. Shimoda. He approaches drink-making like a chef approaches each dish, with respect to his equipment and to his ingredients — which is no surprise, given he initially got involved in the drinks industry while working in a sushi restaurant. For cocktail fans, don’t expect the boundary-pushing styles of London and Singapore. Instead, Odin – with Mr. Shimoda at the helm — is defined by a near obsession with a small list of classic drinks, each perfectly balanced. It’s quality over quantity, and everything has a sense of place.