Dens of Exclusivity
The City That Never Sleeps keeps plenty of secrets up its sleeve. Japanese drinking culture, for example, is woven into almost every neighborhood; you just have to know where to look. And if you’re seeking unmatched sake experiences, you need look no further. We’ve rounded up a few establishments that shouldn’t be missed, from a basement den in Tribeca to a West Village standout where the sake is as important as the bluefin tuna.
Okay, we admit it: Bohemian is not the easiest joint to get into. To gain entry, you’ll have to either find the speakeasy’s secret phone number or be recommended by an existing member. If it helps, we can tell you that the bar itself is tucked behind a Japanese butcher shop in NoHo. If you’re fortunate enough to make it into one of the many 1960s–era lounge chairs, the servers will reward your efforts with arguably the city’s best sake cocktails.
With rough, exposed brick and dark accents, the design of Sakamai trends more New York bar than Japanese cocktail den. Japanese snacks are available till the wee hours on the weekends, and though the food is incredible, it’s the sake list that shines brightest here—25 labels by the glass and 35 by the bottle continuously rotate. Alternatively, patrons can sit at the sake counter and get a shochu education at $15 per flight. And if you really want to impress, Sakamai serves a Daishichi Myoka at almost $600 per bottle.
A stop at Decibel in the East Village begins with a precarious descent down a steep flight of stairs into a tight, gritty space bathed in a soft glow from paper lanterns. Sharpie graffiti on the walls begs to be read, but not as much as the bottle menu, where an entire section is devoted to the “unique” and includes such offerings as Fugu Hire sake, which is served with the fin from a poisonous blowfish in the glass. Between the stairs, the lack of light, and the blowfish situation, drinking here could be considered hazardous to your health, but it would certainly be one unique way to go.
Yes, you can order straight sake at BFlat in Tribeca, but the bar’s expert use of the spirit in cocktail form is a better reason to stop by. The Giant Steps (named after a Coltrane song) starts with wasabi-flavored vodka, which is mellowed with a rice-forward, dry, zuicho “junmai daiginjo” sake. And if you visit the bar on Monday or Wednesday night, they’ll serve it to you with a side of live jazz, all in a plush, sexy space that’s remarkably under the radar.
If you want a sushi/sake pairing experience, head to Sushi Nakazawa in the East Village. For $150, patrons not only get a seat at the sushi bar, they also get to know Nakazawa’s sommelier, Rick Zouad. His collection of bottles includes a Kikuhime Kukurihime from Ishikawa at $1,600. The rare, delicate junmai daiginjo is made using only AAA Yamada Nishiki rice and is aged for 10 years.
Not So Far East
Like Sushi Nakazawa, 15 East in Union Square is one of the world’s premier places to indulge in raw fish paired with rare sakes. The establishment, which seats only nine at the sushi bar and 44 in the dining room, also offers rare shochu selections, including Mugon that is rice-aged for 10 years and Beni Otome made with wheat, rice, and sesame.