Shochu in Japantown: A Bar Named Ikkyu
While wandering through Japantown in search of big ice cubes for an upcoming 7x7 column, a friend and I found ourselves in Ikkyu, a lovely little room on the ground floor of the easternmost building of the Japan Center. An oddly festive place, it wasn't open when we first stopped by, so we returned after 7 p.m., and it was open, though mostly empty. This was a good thing, as it allowed us to chat with Kako, the spirited owner, who had come over from Japan to take over the bar (which, it turned out, had been previously owned by a man with a big ice cube machine … must have taken it with him when he left). Anyhoo, Kako clearly has the knack for entertaining, as did the other bartender, also female. She had all the traits of a good bartender--sense of humor, wit, a little attitude and great hospitality.
We drank an Orion (from Okinawa--one of my favorite Asian beers) and ordered from the surprisingly measly selections of sakes. Before I had the opportunity to embarrass myself by complaining about the dearth of options, Kako pointed out that I was missing the point. This was a shochu, not a sake, bar. I should have known better, as it's fairly well known that shochu has overtaken sake as the beverage of choice in Japan. Kako generously took us through a tasting of her many shochus, however, and I did find them pleasing. Stronger than sake, but weaker than whiskey, shochu is capable of having delicate flavors and aromas, though I wouldn't say that I've tasted one as fine as a good sake.
While Ikkyu was dead during the early evening, when we were in there, Kako assured us that within a few hours it would be cranking. Taking measure of its narrow, shotgun space, I could see how this could be a fun place to hang out, no matter what you like to drink.