Through a glass darkly could be the theme here in this glowy, seductive cocktail izakaya. With the surfeit of lovely places to drink around town, from speakeasies to any raucous downtown scene – you’d think there wouldn’t be need for more. But there’s always room for one more isn’t there? And Bar Goto is more than just another hip bar. It’s a pretty fabulous, intimate, innovative, interesting bar by treasured alum Kenta Goto from Pegu Club fame.
A warm summer evening and the windows are open to a quiet part of Eldridge Street. The wooden door swings wide, there’s Jimi Hendrix on the soundtrack, smoldering lighting, congenial, casually sophisticated crowd and a warm welcome. I’m in.
You can grab a seat at the lovely walnut bar or stake out a table. It’s a small architecturally creative space and can easily get crowded but it’s generally very comfortable. If there’s a wait, it’s actually a civil wait. Respect and graciousness rule the roost.
That’s the mise-en-scene, but the stars here are the Japanese tapas-esque plates ready for sharing and of course the signature cocktails that demand to be tasted one by one. Each one sounds fantastic. $15 per drink and you can go through several quite handily. No worries if you want something to be made for you from a favorite assemblage, or you prefer straight sake, wine, beer or your spirit of choice. But the signature cocktails are off the charts. They are exquisite, not meant to send you under the table but to settle on the palate, caress the taste buds, satisfy the soul.
One of the much talked about cocktails. And for good reason. The Sakura Martini comprised of sake, gin, heightened by a maraschino musk and adorned with a beautiful dried cherry blossom. It’s delightfully velvety and the second one is even better than the first.
Another favorite for me is The Far East Side (from early Pegu fame), a heady little combo of sake, tequila, shiso, elderflower, lemon and yuzu bitters. Oh, it may not get better than this. It’s not too much of any one thing, perfectly blended…nectar, heaven, divine – the holy trinity of cocktail description. But for real. And with a generously sized muddled shiso leaf.
Kenta along with great longtime bartender (and former cohort) Mat Resler, stand behind the bar liquifying magic. On a second visit sans camera, drank the Watermelon-Cucumber Cooler with gin, watermelon, cucumber, lime, lemon and wasabi salt tasting sublimely better then you’d imagine if the mix was in lesser hands. Summer at its best. The Matcha Milk Punch with matcha, sencha, vodka and half & half. I love that Goto described this drink as a concept bringing together tea ceremonies with the classic milk punch. It allows for the delicate green tea flavor to have prime focus. A relaxed finish to any deliciously alcohol infused evening here.
No perfect bar (or izakaya) could actually be such without food that complements intricately designed drinks…or maybe even dishes that hold their own. As it happens, Mr Goto, who clearly has taken great care and pride with every last facet of his lounge, also has the esteemed Chef Kiyo Shinoki (from semi-secret Bohemian fame) in the kitchen.
Something as simple as celery becomes profound. The Kobu Celery is fresh celery with salted kobu seaweed, roasted sesame, sesame oil and red shiso flakes. Brilliant. Don’t smirk. This is celery at it’s absolute best. Would eat it every day.
New York City loves a food phenomenon and currently the top banana, or top pancake is the Okonomi-Yaki, savory cabbage pancakes served with okonomi-sauce, drizzled kewpie mayo plus dried bonito flakes and picked red ginger on the side. That’s just the base. Served in cast iron pans, there are five choices on the menu and I’ve tried two so far. The Fisherman’s version with octopus, rock shrimp, and calamari and the Herbivore with shitake & shimeji mushrooms, nira-leek, carrot and scallions. Loved them both. There’s also a pork belly, seafood, cheese variation, an all grilled cheese with sun dried tomatoes kind, and the Carnivore with pork belly, chicken and bacon. Everybody can be happy.
Love the Pickle bar snack, vegetables done in house are great but it’s that yuzu pepper paste that will drag you back. Gobo French Fries – fried Japanese burdock roots, with shichimi-pepper & sea salt, another snap-them-up-while-you-imbibe-delicacies kind of treat.
Miso Chicken Wings have become a mini legend. Split in two so you nibble off one bone, getting more crunch and popping the flavor. The wings with roasted black sesame, scallions and a miso buffalo hot sauce are knocking socks off all the way around.
Bar Goto is a cool customer. Chic but beautifully bound in the heritage of its owner. Kenta Goto was a favored bartender for seven years at Pegu. Now a charming and gracious host, his culture and ancestry are clearly ingrained in the man and the place. As a master in calligraphy, he’s included his last name in the bar logo as an homage to his family. His food remarks on a similar restaurant that his mother runs just outside of Tokyo and his grandmother’s 100 year old kimono has become part of the wall art.
In an early interview, Goto essentially said that his plan was to offer a new and evolving perspective about Asian themed cocktails, modernizing the classics and feature Japanese staples like yuzu, miso and shiso. In this smoky, sexy, chill spot – he’s doing just that. I am forever grateful.
245 Eldridge Street between Stanton & East Houston
Tuesday-Thursday 5pm to midnight, Friday-Saturday until 2am, Sunday until midnight