Bar Moga, Japanese Speakeasy in Greenwich Village

If you like your bar food as interesting as your cocktails, then you might want to pull up a chair at Bar Moga, a retro, Japanese-inspired bar run by alums of Milk & Honey in Greenwich Village. You won’t find the typical plate of french fries or chicken wings on the menu. The space is far too elegant to allow for greasy pub grub like that. The word “moga”, after all, is a term used to refer to Japanese women in the 1920s who followed Western fashions and lifestyles, and she probably would want bites more consistent with her tastes, like kani crab croquettes or caesar salad.Read More

Checking In: Chumley’s, Still Good

It’s been nearly 6 months since I first had dinner at Chumley’s, the renovated speakeasy in the West Village. I was a big fan of its glamorous, old-school NYC vibe, and an even bigger fan of the thoughtful food menu. A recent check-in shows that things are still going swimmingly at Chumley’s. That intimate and exclusive environment remains, which makes it great for bringing out of town guests or a date to when you want a throwback to a different New York City.

beef tartare with hazelnut, confit tomato, ombra

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Dinnertable, a Secret Restaurant in East Village

off to a good start at dinnertable
a cozy room with an open kitchen

Nothing beats a small group dinner party at a friend’s house. The energy is relaxed and positive, which makes enjoying yourself possible in a way that you can’t at a formal sit-down restaurant. This is what a meal at Dinnertable, a secret restaurant hidden in the back of The Garret East in the East Village, feels like. You enter the bar, muscling your way past some tipsy Millennials until you reach the curtains and pull them aside to flick the secret switch for Dinnertable. A hostess will slide the door and lead you into the peaceful oasis inside. This is where the grown ups are, catching up over good food and wine, carrying on quality conversation and being able to hear one another, while the kids are running around outside.Read More

Chumley’s Old-School Glamour

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If you want to travel back in time to old New York, the kind that lives in movies and books like The Great Gatsby and Inside Llewyn Davis, then pay a visit to Chumley’s, a historic speakeasy and pub on 86 Bedford St. You might miss the unmarked entrance, a detail from its Prohibition Era origins, but once you find it and open the door, you won’t need a secret password, just a reservation. The reservation is essential, as demand for a table is extremely high, given that the restaurant has finally reopened after nearly a decade-long renovation. “We don’t like breaking hearts” is how the hostess will turn you away if you attempt to do the walk-in.Read More

Karasu Japanese Speakeasy in Fort Greene

Everyone likes being in on a secret, so here’s a juicy one for you. At Walter’s, a very American and Brooklyn-esque restaurant in Fort Greene, there is a door that leads to Karasu, an elegant Japanese speakeasy hidden in the back. Out goes the scrappy bearded hipster hangout, and in comes the sleek and beautiful black-and-gold cocktail lounge. I felt like I was back at the Hotel Okura in Tokyo, only I was surrounded by white people wearing normcore clothing instead of businessmen wearing suit-and-tie. Different people, similar ambiance.

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dippermouth cocktail in the front, ginger baker drink in the back

Karasu is more of a cocktail bar with small plates to accompany your drink and not the other way around. The drinks list is an extensive and interesting one. You wouldn’t expect anything less from Thomas Waugh, who is the head bartender and made a name for himself at places like ZZ’s Clam Bar and Death & Co. We ordered the Ginger Baker, a refreshing and fruity drink made with ginger and tequila flavored with oolong tea; the Thrice Rice, a smoky and savory cocktail made with Dewar’s infused with rice cakes, and the Dippermouth, another smoky and manly concoction of bourbon, black walnut and creme de banana. All three cocktails were excellent, but if you want something simpler, you can also order some sake, shochu and Japanese whiskeys. We had two cups of the Kamoizumi Summer Snow Sake, an unfiltered and sweet sake that was simply delicious.

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crudo featuring kampachi, koji and shiso
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karaage duck wings with spicy sesame and scallions
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miso potato salad
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tagliatelle pasta with uni and smoky butter

The food features Japanese izakaya favorites like pickles, karaage, sashimi and potato salad, although with a Western twist. One example is the karaage, which is normally prepared as fried chicken, but Karasu re-interprets it as soft duck wings in a spicy sesame sauce that feels more like a teriyaki. There’s also the inventive tagliatelle pasta with uni, which is not something you’d find in any Japanese bar, and the heavy flavors of smoky ham and butter that dominate are very much American. I thought the best dishes were the ones that stayed truest to the Japanese flavor profile, the refreshing and clean crudo of kampachi with shiso and the miso potato salad with sesame and nori.

My favorite moments at Karasu are on the earlier side, when there aren’t as many people and the noise level isn’t so high. You can comfortably carry on a conversation with your dining companions while enjoying the jazzy music in the background, but after 8 pm or so, that becomes harder to do. But after a few drinks, and when owner Danny Minch chats you up with fun stories about his travels to Tokyo and Kyoto, that becomes less of an issue, and you’re more focused on when you can drop by again to pick up from where you left off.

Karasu, in the back of Walter’s
166 DeKalb Avenue (and Cumberland St)
Brooklyn, NY 11217
call 718-488-7800 for reservations