ON TAP: The Secret Cocktail Bar That Has My Heart

By SETHWILSON GRAY

Inside of Rooster’s House of Ramen, there is a fake brick wall that conceals a new bar that opened this summer. Look for the cherry blossoms, and you’ll find Sakura, a Japanese-inspired speakeasy.

Sakura is about the size of two dorm rooms pushed together, with black tapestries hanging from the ceiling, draping everything in soft light. Upbeat music filters through the little room. The decor is neutrally colored chic and relaxed, with two couches, a couple chairs, and room for about eight people to sit at the bar. They recommend you make reservations on Fridays and Saturdays, as the little bar fills up quickly.

The Stratton cocktail. Photos by SethWilson Gray

When you walk in, the hostess introduces you to the three-person staff (Jess, Sean, and Dylan) and gives you a couple recommendations from the short menu. I was seated at the bar, which, if you can get a spot here, I highly recommend. The bartenders (Sean and Dylan) do simultaneous cocktail shakes, dancing between each other to make and add garnishes. For instance, if someone orders a Ute Pass at the bar, the bar doubles as a presentation stage. They break out the brandy glasses, warm them over boiling water, add a Japanese whiskey and some other ingredients—including a mid-air roasted hazelnut—and finish the drink by lighting it with a blowtorch. The blue flames ripple over the cocktail and dissipate when served, drawing the whole room’s attention.

Before asking for a drink order, you’re offered water and given an oshibori, a hot towel scented with natural oils, honoring Japanese hospitality culture. The bartenders know their drinks well and give great suggestions based on what you tell them you’re looking for.

In fact, the staff is one of the best features of this bar. They love to talk with their customers and keep a quiet, relaxed vibe. I’m not usually talkative when I’m by myself, but they managed to get me talking, just as they did with those sitting around me. Their superb ice-breakers involves little mind-teaser puzzles they have placed around the bar, which they know the tricks to and can quickly solve and reset before handing it to you.

To be clear, the cocktails here are a bit pricey. They range from $10-12, but the quality and care put into each makes the price worth it. This winter, the hostess let me know they’re going to be serving an eggnog cocktail with some Japanese twists. Even while at the bar, I noticed one of the bartenders making new drinks and considering what to add, so it seems like the current menu won’t stay the same for long either.

Profiled cocktails:

The Ruxton cocktail

Stratton: This drink features a Japanese liquor, mugi shochu, which is distilled from barley. The liquor is paired with other fruity liquors—most distinctly a cranberry, but also a mandarin orange hint with other flavors coming from their mixing. Overall, the aroma is vibrant and crisp, to compliment the blood orange color. This is a sweeter drink without a bite, which I felt was lacking. Although it is topped with cranberries, no single fruit flavor tries to dominate the glass. If you’re into calmer drinks, this would be the one for you.

Tejon: This is an interesting Japanese-inspired cocktail featuring a green tea-infused vodka. It has a beautifully ripe lemon color and smells just the same. Surprisingly, the green tea flavor was more of an aftertaste, and the lemon and sake dominated the taste buds instead. There is a distinct crispness in both the lemon and sake that goes well together, creating a dry and sweet palate. There are notes of honey as well, which follow you through the drink from the initial punch of lemon, to the bite of the sake, and to the green tea at the end. It tastes like a fancy lemon drop with mint to top it off, adding even more to this revitalizing cocktail.

Ruxton: This is Sakura’s Japanese version of a tequila sour. Overall, it is a superbly smooth drink, with tart fruity twists. It is as creamy as it is citrusy, and the foam on top balances well with the rest of the drink. The lychee liquor and yuzu compliment the tequila well, and it is served in a chilled glass that makes it all the more refreshing. The drink is finished with some obscure orange dots that are turned into designs, which makes it feel even more classy.

Other drinks that were recommended were the Ute Pass and the Old North End.

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