One way to better understand Japanese bartending is to think about traditional tea ceremonies. In both experiences everything is calculated, from the ingredients and the movements to the preparation times. They are rituals based on calmness and elegance. In the end, it’s almost like a great stage production that reaches its peak when the drink reaches the hands of the customer. “It’s a transformative experience,” explains Frank Cisneros, consultant and bartender at Uchu, a Japanese restaurant in New York that has just received its first Michelin star. “The drink is not that important; the key is the whole experience.”
Behind this bartending style is an attitude: omotenashi. This term refers to hospitality and is the reasoning behind everything that involves customer service in Japan, be it in one of the most important tech companies in the world or in a bar. “It’s practically part of the Japanese culture’s DNA. They’re taught from a young age that they have to be extremely helpful. It’s a search for constant improvement in attention and service,” explains Frank. “This is seen in all industries, it’s a mentality that goes way beyond what we’re used to—the idea that the client is always right.”
But what makes this cocktail style so different? Something key, according to Frank, is the almost obsessive attention to detail. “There are many details that when seen alone go unnoticed, but when put together create a unique experience.” These details include the quality of the ingredients, the way in which the ice is carved, and the silence and elegance that go hand in hand. But even if one wanted to recreate the experience that is found in Japan, we must bear in mind that we’re talking about very different markets. “I incorporate elegance, calmness, omotenashi, and care for details. But what happens in Japan is very difficult to fully export,” says Frank, who in his work as a consultant has helped several places bring together the best of these two worlds, emphasizing the customer experience and almost obsessive care for details. Luckily, you won’t have to travel to Japan to get the full experience. Below you’ll find three options for Japanese-style bartending here in the States.
Azabu Miami Beach—MIAMI
This restaurant offers omotenashi for those who seek a unique experience.
Although this cocktail bar and restaurant in Brooklyn is hard to find (you go through another restaurant to get to it), it’s worth the effort for its varied menu and great selection of Japanese whiskeys and sakes.
This speakeasy specializing in Japanese whiskeys combines the best of American and Japanese bartending. Its customer service is unparalleled.