Japan was one of the places where American bartenders, having lost their gigs during Prohibition, arrived in the 1920s and '30s. Cocktail bars in Tokyo have remained a testament to that period, as Sean Muldoon, former head bartender of the Merchant Hotel in Belfast, Northern Ireland, saw firsthand. That cocktail culture has resurfaced in the United States and Britain, and Muldoon's new bar, Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog, is the latest addition to New York's scene. Here's an edited chat with him:
What's the cocktail experience like in Tokyo?
Drinks at "authentic bars" -- as in authentically American, that's what they're called -- are usually classics like Tom Collins or an Old Fashioned. They're not overly creative, but the service is unparalleled.
Everything in Japan is about presentation, ritual, hospitality. As soon as you arrive at Bar Four Seasons in the Ginza District, someone takes your coat, seats you and brings you a hot cloth for your hands. At Bar High Five, you get a good chance to see Hidetsugu Ueno, the owner, at work. Beside him are two assistants. They get the glasses, the ice, everything in order before Ueno even starts mixing.
Kazuo Uyeda of Tender Bar, he's credited for that crystal-clear ice that's taken America by storm. He also invented the "hard shake," which supposedly achieves optimum taste and coldness.
And in London?
Marian Beke at Bar Nightjar, one of these make-believe speakeasies,
Alex Kratena at the Artesian Bar at the Langham Hotel, he does cheesy disco drinks, but with a twist. He's made the pina colada into a rum punch with freshly squeezed pineapple and bitters.
And Erik Lorincz, head bartender of the American Bar at the Savoy, has brought a sense of youthfulness to the whole thing, made it less stiff. Before him, you'd be knocked back for wearing jeans.
What's your bar adding to New York's scene?
We found a 1820 townhouse in the Financial District, made the ground floor a workingman's tavern, the kind Irish immigrants would have found here in the 1850s, and the upstairs a seated bar, with 72 cocktails from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. We're trying to tell a historical tale.
-- Emily Brennan, New York Times