Our 10 Best Spots to Drink Sake in NYC
We're certainly not forgoing classic wine, beer, or cocktail options when it comes to summer sipping, but we're also tossing back our fair share of chilled sake, especially after sake expert John Gauntner taught us how to drink the Japanese rice wine and divulged a few places around town with lists worth perusing. Like any international city worth its salt, though, New York has many good places to try the drink, and you can find sake bars in basements and tiny cutaways throughout town, many of which you'll walk right past unless you know to look for them. So we've put together our list of the 10 best sake spots in NYC, listed here in alphabetical order. See something we missed? Let us know in the comments.
A note on tasting before we begin: Something like 80 percent of the sake on the market is not premium sake, but something like 80 percent of the sake for sale in New York's sake bars is considered premium, so it helps to know at least something about the different grades.
There are six grades of premium sake, which can be cleanly divided by whether alcohol has been added to the brew or if the drink contains only naturally occurring alcohol. From there, the degree to which the sake rice is milled down to its starchy center will further define the premium sakes.
The lower tier of premium sakes has been brewed with rice milled to at least 70 percent of its original size; Junmai has no alcohol added; Honjozo does.
The middle tier is milled to at least 60 percent of its original size; Junmai Ginjo has no alcohol added; Ginjo does.
The super-premium top tier is made from rice milled to at least 50 percent of its original size; Junmai-Daiginjo has no added alcohol; Daiginjo does.
15 East, 15 East 15th Street
For some, a Michelin star is merit enough to devote an evening to 15 East, and the formidable sake selection at one of Manhattan's darling sushi spots certainly helped it earn that coveted honor. While not as comprehensive as other sake bars' (the list leans heavily toward junmai ginjo and daiginjo), 15 East's sake selection is nonetheless robust, complete with a seasonal selection of unpasteurized nama sakes and a bottle of Born "Yume wa Masayume"--a rare and award-winning aged sake that tips the scales at $525 for a 1-liter bottle.
Chez Sardine, 183 West 10th Street
Chez Sardine is not a sake bar--it's a restaurant touting an inventive hybrid of Japanese cuisine with European influence--but the spot keeps a truncated sake list to match the offerings from its sushi bar. Two interesting by-the-glass sakes (a kimoto junmai and an unfiltered ginjo) make the list, and seven sakes are available by the bottle to enjoy with a plate of miso-maple salmon head.
Decibel, 240 East 9th Street
While sake doesn't age well, Decibel does. The granddaddy of NYC sake bars was established in 1993 and has become a mainstay of the city's sake scene. Graffiti, dim red lighting, and its subterranean location give Decibel the feeling of a punk rock speakeasy transplanted from the neon streets of Tokyo. Sake bottles look like trophies on display, offering drinkers nearly 100 varieties to choose from. Some sake cocktails are available, as is standard Japanese bar food.