In many ways, Wakana is an “accidental” bartender. Initially bartending as a student just to pay the bills, she never considered it a serious career until she had a life-changing opportunity to work with Zac Mirza, Co-Owner of Singapore’s Kult Cafe. She was immediately “spirited away” (pun intended) by the magic of mixology, and as they say, the rest is history.
After moving to Singapore to pursue her bartending dream, Wakana was lured back to Tokyo in 2020, where she was part of the team developing the much lauded pioneer cocktail menu at Gold Bar in Toranomon Edition (the Tokyo outpost of a global boutique luxury hotel chain). Just a year after its opening, the bar notched an impressive 56th in Asia’s 50 Best Bars, announced in July 2023.
Wakana’s creations are minimal, grounded in a simple purity that masks a delicate depth and complexity of flavours. A rare stalwart in Japan’s traditionally male-dominated bartending scene, Wakana is unique in more ways than one — she mixes with her tattoos on her left arm in full display even in conservative Japan, where body art is largely considered a social taboo especially for women.
1. What obstacles did you have to overcome to get where you are?
I’ve been fortunate not to have met major obstacles in this journey, but I definitely feel the gap between Singapore and Japan in terms of gender equality especially in this industry. In Japan, guests seem to trust male bartenders more than female ones. This upset me when I first moved back to Tokyo, but I have since accepted it as the common perception. I will show the detractors what I can do.
About your cocktail creations
1. How would you describe or define your cocktail style?
Simple and minimal, yet complex and delicate in flavour.
2. Who or what has inspired you the most in your bartending journey?
Zac Mirza from Singapore’s Kult Cafe and Hideyuki Saito from Tokyo’s EDITION hotel. Zac ignited my interest in bartending when I was part-timing as a bartender in Tokyo. He worked with us to build our beverage programme and grounded my foundation in bartending, while Hideyuki was a critical part of my journey with Gold Bar.
About your choice of ingredients
1. Do you have a favourite Japanese liquor or spirit that you like to use in your creations? Why?
Awamori. It has such a powerful flavour that it gives a drink depth and complexity, but it also works well as an alternative to many spirits or liqueurs.
2. What are some new concoctions you are experimenting with now that incorporate novel Japanese spirits, ingredients or liquor?
I’ve been enjoying working with Doburoku lately. One of my signature cocktails at Gold Bar is a Doburoku-based cocktail paired with Pisco, Sauvignon Blanc and pear. It has a distinct tropical flavour despite the soft sweetness from rice, and the texture of the rice crisps is fun and delightful!