Bar 7th

“A restaurant that values its knives can make delicious things.”

As the number of restaurants that are particular about their ingredients increases, chefs too are becoming more selective about their kitchen knives to bring the most out of those ingredients. Restaurants that carefully choose their knives and take care of them can make truly delicious food.

Like all our issues of “Connecting with Taste: Chef Interviews”, we introduce restaurants that we believe create amazing cuisine through the charms of their chefs, that review site ratings alone cannot give justice to. This time, we have changed things up a bit and spoke to Mayanori Ayukawa, bartender and owner of Bar 7th near Abeno Station in Osaka, who is passionate about cutting fruit and turning humble ingredients into works of delicious art.

Bar 7th feels like a place run by a person truly fascinated and captivated by bartending, and thanks to the people around him has grown into fruition. Ayukawa is a very friendly person, and his words combined with the occasional shy grin always radiate his gratitude towards others.

The cocktail that changed everything – “Around the World”

I was a high school graduate, freelancing while devoting all my spare time to my band. However, by the time I hit 22 to 23, my friends around me had left university to find and start working, so I was left feeling a little anxious.

I had zero image in my head of becoming an office or company employee. Instead, I had some vague ideas about getting some skills and becoming independent instead.

At first, through my experience doing track and field in junior high, I thought I had a talent for massage and figured getting certified to work at an osteopathic clinic would be a good idea.

In the back of my mind however, I always had the idea of becoming a bartender.

Even though I couldn’t drink, in highschool I bought a cocktail book and would tell my friends how to make the drinks inside.

One day, the guitarist in my band’s father took us to a bar. He singled me out to the bartender and said, “This guy wants to be a bartender. Make him something interesting!”

After some thought, the bartender flipped through his cocktail book and kind of clumsily made a drink called “Around the World.” Looking back, I realize that the bartender was not exactly good, and that his pondering about the order and looking at the cocktail book isn’t really worthy of praise.

That said, I’ll never forget that moment. That drink was truly delicious. I felt like a whole new door inside of me had opened.

In fact, that one sip may have been what led me into the world of bartending.

Meeting the Master of Machi no Akari

At first, I worked the opening shift at a dining bar in America-mura, home to Osaka’s youth. When I eventually started creating my own cocktails, the young female customers often complimented me and I felt very comfortable there as a result.

One day, I picked up a cocktail magazine that happened to be lying around the bar, and suddenly noticed the words “competition winner” on its cover.

An interview inside further said, “There is a pinnacle in this world and there are people working hard to reach it.”

These words made me think for a little while. “If I stay here, I’ll only wind up being a stuck-up man.”

After that day I started taking home free newspapers to look for further part-time work.

During this time, I came across a job opening for “Machi no Akari” (Town Lights), a bar in Sakai City. The master had created his own website, which was at the time very unusual. On that site, there was a record of all his competitions documented for all to see.

I told myself “If I work for this master, I might be able to grow as a bartender!” and immediately applied for an interview. During the interview I told the master “I want to be a bartender,” telling him all about my background and desires. In turn, he handed me the menu of his bar – it had about 200 different kinds of drinks, including some that almost no one would order. He then said “You have to memorize all of these to work here.”

When my master granted me an Insurance Card

The day I was notified that I passed the interview, I immediately put aside the happiness that was welling up inside me and got to work studying hard! I took notes and learned everything I could, and was very energetic and hard-working from day one. As I looked at the more experienced workers here, I thought to myself “This person has memorized everything!” and it made me a little nervous.

But after about a week, I noticed something. I was surprised to hear my seniors asking me “How do you make this drink?”. I had experience from my previous job, and had managed to memorize the entire menu. However, my co-workers had not memorized the entire menu at all.

One by one, my co-workers left due to daytime work or getting married, so my shifts went to four days a week, then six a week. At this time, I didn’t understand the concept of having a day off and worked with a single goal: to support the bar .

One day, as I opened my locker to start work, I noticed an employee insurance card inside: my own insurance card. I was so ecstatic I also jumped out of my skin! At this time, almost no one in the bar industry was working as an official employee with the benefits that come with it: employment insurance, and a pension plan amongst other things. In fact, I don’t think it’s common even these days, but I’m following my master’s lead and trying to make my current staff official employees wherever possible.

Starting from 58th out of 60

From here, I started seriously preparing to participate in competitions while learning from the master. He wasn’t really a detail-oriented individual, so he gave me very little guidance or advice. He just watched over and observed me.

As for my bartending career itself, at my first workplace I was treated very well. Then, at the second I was promoted to an official employee due to my good performance. I studied all the books I could and practiced whenever possible. However, at the first competition I   participated in, I placed 58th out of 60. I felt a mixture of shocked emotions and thought to myself “This is my starting point.”

At the next tournament I participated at, I was visited by the master of my master – the grandmaster so to speak. He wasn’t interested in competitions at all, but when he saw my performance, he said to me “You will be the best in Japan someday.”

Inside, I felt the following: “How could a person who ranked 58th out of 60 do that?” But I had a sense of being moved and inspired by the words of the grandmaster at the time, who himself radiated a mysterious charm.

The Master’s Words after Third Place in Junior Nationals

As said, I was inspired by the words of the master’s master and worked hard, taking third place in the junior (under 29s) division at a national competition. Not many others around me had achieved that level of success, so I was content with this title at the time.

I told the master “I’ve already won third place in the junior nationals, so I think I’m done with the main competition (30 and above).” The master, who rarely spoke tersely to me, replied boldly “Before you say that, participate (in the main competition) once.” I thought “Really? Is this really the right answer, I wonder?.” and decided to give it a shot. I asked someone who had achieved results in those competitions to let me record one of his fruit cutting sessions. It took them ten minutes to complete their fruit cutting. Replicating it took me an hour. At this point I realized something - “This is an amazing world.”

I practiced diligently, which changed my normal movements at work as well. Uselessness was cut out, and I became more conscious of not only my cutting, but my gestures and the sharpness of my cuts.

I wanted to spend more time practicing for competitions, but of course I couldn’t neglect work either. Machi no Akari had an affiliated store and I was given the job of running it. I was both treated well and paid well there. However… I began to think about this situation

“Which way will make me grow the most ten years from now? Staying here? Or leaving?”

At the time, Harukas opened in Abeno as well as Q’s Mall. I wanted to work as a bartender in Abeno, and that feeling was building up inside me more and more.

“Machi no Akari” Graduation and Independence

When I told my master about my plans, my mind was already made up. “Actually, I’ve decided to have an interview in Abeno. Whether I pass or not, I’ll be leaving here.”

The master says one word back “Okay”. Very typical of him, I thought.

At the next workplace, I again had a job as a bartender, but I also worked on teppanyaki and lunch duties there. There was little to no time to practice for competitions!

That’s when I stumbled across the perfect property for me. It was down a quiet back alley, with little foot traffic. Anyone at the time would have told me not to open here, but it was close to a train station, had a quiet atmosphere and for someone like me who wanted to make Abeno a base, it felt like fate intertwining.

I had some money in savings already, then also borrowed from various sources, got help from carpenters and some kitchen equipment vendors and Bar 7th was finally open. I thought in the worst case if I worked part-time during the day, I could pay back the money I owed. Very fortunately, I have been able to make my living as a bar owner full-time since I started the business.

At first, only a few customers came to Bar 7th. I really needed good results from some competitions to help me promote my store. In this bar, finally I could practice again and prepare for the events. Without worrying about the watching eyes of a master or other employees, before the store opened for the day, I’d spend my time practicing.

But the road was still very tough. It took me a full five years to go from here to the national competition.

The competition carrying everyone’s dreams

When you seriously train for a competition, you need the help of family, staff, your seniors and many other people. I would ask people who had gotten good results to let me take videos of them, and I would visit bringing my equipment with me to gauge my own performance, with customers often saying “You were so close!”

As I participated in more and more competitions each year and gradually improved my ranking, I began to receive support from many more people.

At this point, the competition victories, which I originally practiced for the sake of my pride and for my store’s promotion on the main signboard out front became not just my dream, but one with everyone’s hopes and feelings being carried with me.

Honestly, there are days where I suddenly think “Maybe it’s time to quit.” But on days like that, regular customers always ask me “Will you make it and compete again this year?”

These comments motivate me to keep going.

The award that I desired for years

In 2022, it finally happened. I won the “Suntory The Cocktail Award”. For some extra context, if you win a competition hosted by the Japan Bartender Association, generally you aren’t allowed to participate in the next competition.

But manufacturer sponsored events don't have these restrictions, so as a result last year’s Suntory competition felt like an all-star event! It had so many winners from previous association competitions participating.

Even with the tough opposition, I was able to win the competition! I feel like my hard work had paid off and I could give a little back to those who helped me by winning.

When I informed the master and master’s master, they said “Now you have to win the NBA (Japan Bartenders Association) tournament.”

From here onwards, I’ll continue to take on new challenges.

Sharpness and Balance

Fruit cutting is one of the performances that is judged at competitions, and the knife required to perform well here needs to have quality thinness and sharpness. For this, I use the Kirameki Powder Damascus Steel Petty Knife. Of course, I enjoy how sharp it is, but the blade’s edge retention is also fantastic.

I’ve bought many kinds of whetstones and studied sharpening by myself, but of course when it’s competition time I visit Ichimonji to get a professional sharpening.

Immediately after sharpening, the knife is almost too sharp and fruit sticks to the blade! After about a week of usage however, the knife then feels perfect for me.

Competitions are a game of speed, fluid movement and perfection in mere seconds, so I use this knife which has an emphasis on feeling proper balance in my hand. Of course, the sharpness also changes the performance itself and the beauty of the fruit’s cross-section. Naturally, I want to compete with a knife that’s been sharpened especially for the occasion.

“In your next competition?” we asked.

“Of course. I aim to win!”

Restaurant Information

Bar 7th

3-17-13 Matsuzaki-cho, Abeno-ku, Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture
Trading Hours
19:00 - 26:00
Closed Sundays