A couple of years ago, when asked where to go for a drink at an Asian-owned bar, I’d recommend one of two options: (1) Angel’s Share for great cocktails in a cool, dimly lit space to take someone you really want to impress, or (2) Sake Bar Decibel for post-dinner drinks in a fun environment reminiscent of popular drinking dens in Tokyo. Thankfully, I have expanded my repertoire of Asian-owned bars since then - and even chatted with a few owners along the way. Below, you’ll find 10 other places to drink across the city that are all Asian-owned and include everything from an award-winning cocktail bar in the West Village to a Pan-Asian spot in Greenpoint.
With Warm Welcome is a community organization that amplifies and humanizes Asian American chefs, restaurateurs, and founders by producing podcasts, crafting meaningful experiences, and collaborating with artists. It’s become ever more apparent that we need to find ways to advocate for Asian-owned small businesses as they’ve been the hardest hit during the pandemic. In partnership with The Infatuation, we’re spotlighting some of our favorite Asian-owned businesses to support now and forever.
Pre-COVID, I could always count on Korean-American Cliff Cho’s Fat Buddha on Avenue A for Friday or Saturday night drinks, old school hip hop, and a curated rotation of DJs. Although I’d primarily come here for drinks, the food menu is also incredible and filled with Korean-inspired dishes, like the Buddha bao buns with bulgogi beef wrapped in a pillowy bao and drizzled in gochujang and garlic mayo, and the kimchi jungle fries - a pile of fries topped with bulgogi beef, bacon, kimchi, cheese, and scallions. Because of the pandemic, the indoor space is still currently closed, but they offer their food menu to-go via their website. They’re planning to reopen for indoor in June, and once they do, this will be one of my first stops to celebrate #shotgirlsummer.
Award-winning managing partner and head bartender Masahiro, or Masa, Urushido brings his 17+ years of experience to Katana Kitten, located in the West Village. The highballs are always fantastic, and of the signature cocktails, I particularly like the Meguroni #2, which is a spin on the negroni with bitterness from the caffo red bitter, sweetness from the aged umeshu, and a bit of citrus and herbs from the shochu and gin.
Korean-American chef and entrepreneur Esther Choi of Mokbar opened this LES bar as a continuation of her journey in educating Americans about Korean food and culture through Korean-American bar food and cocktails. The Between The Knees is the perfect drink now that summer is basically here, which is Ms. Yoo’s take on the strawberry daiquiri. The strawberries and limes help achieve that perfect balance between sweet and tart, and the ginger preserves give the drink that extra kick.
Peachy’s is currently closed, but plans to reopen later this spring.
In 2018, Chinese-American restaurant owner Jeff Lam and his co-owner Eddy Buckingham opened Peachy’s, a cocktail den situated under their restaurant, Chinese Tuxedo, on Chinatown’s infamous Doyers Street. For a first-timer, Peachy’s can come off as a cool kids club - the space is adorned with pink blossoms and tiger-print wallpaper, and the only lighting comes from hanging lanterns, candles, and pink neon lights in the form of dragons and Chinese characters (they spell out “Land of Peach Blossoms,” which signifies a type of paradise). But after you’ve ordered a Horny Buddha (or two) - their sweet and tangy vodka cocktail that comes in a Buddha-shaped ceramic cup - and sunk into your seat a bit, you’ll feel like you fit right in.
When I want to go to a bar in the Lower East Side where I don’t feel like I’m one of the oldest ones there (for context, I’m in my late-20s), but also like I’m still hip enough to know what the new Gen Z diss “dog water” means (look it up), Bar Goto is my go-to. Tokyo-born Kenta Goto got his bartending start at Pegu Club, before opening Bar Goto in 2015 just down the block. Located on a street that’s a bit chiller than the rest of the Lower East Side, this place serves Japanese-inspired cocktails along with sake, shochu, beer, and wine. In addition to drinks, Bar Goto also has small izakaya plates like okonomiyaki and miso wings, which really are the best thing here. The sauce is sweet-tangy and spicy with a hint of miso, and the wings are somehow able to defy science and stay crispy even under all the sauce.
Coffee and lunch spot by day and sake bar by night, Hi-Collar is just one of the many Japanese establishments in NYC owned by Bon Yagi, who is also Japanese. Located in the East Village, Hi-Collar occupies a narrow space where the only seating is the dozen-or-so stools that line the long, brass-countered bar. The bar shelf/wall is designed with sliding doors that remind me of Japanese screen doors and create some fun mystery around the place. Hi-Collar offers an extensive selection of sake, and the bartender will always offer a few suggestions if you’re feeling curious or lost.
Double Chicken Please opened in November 2020. It’s the result of an eight-year journey for Taiwanese-Americans GN Chan and Faye Chen, who served drinks out of a traveling vintage Volkswagen minivan across the U.S. before opening their cocktail bar in the Lower East Side. The cocktails are named by number (there are 10 in total, one being a mocktail) and are all fantastic, though my favorite might just be their mezcal shot. It’s mixed with plum and shiso, which soften the edge of the mezcal while adding a touch of tartness and herbaceousness. In other words, it’s dangerous (in the best way possible). As hinted from the name, they also serve chicken, in the form of three types of fried chicken sandwiches: salted duck egg, hot honey, and bolognese torpedo - each of which is perfect for drunchies after those three shots I just took.
Avi Singh and Rishi Rajpal, who are Indian and Indian Chinese, respectively, opened Greenpoint bar Sama Street in 2019, which serves Asian-inspired cocktails and food. They’re childhood friends and spent the majority of their lives living in and traveling through Asia. “We wanted to highlight the foods and beverages we grew up on, and share these memories... by shining a light on Asian culture and ingredients through cocktails and food,” said Singh. Their extensive cocktail list includes names like Lucy Liu and Bollywood Superstar, which use ingredients typically found in Chinese and Indian dishes such as chili oil (used as a tequila wash) and garam masala. For pre or post-dinner drinks, I recommend pairing drinks with some snacks and lamb skewers, but ideally, I’d come here a little hungrier than that because the pork ribs and steak should truly not be missed. The ribs are super tender and doused in a chili barbecue, and the steak is cooked to a perfect medium-rare, topped with a sesame chimmi sauce, and comes with fries and a side of fish sauce mayo - which is the only way I will be having mayo from now on.
Latin-Asian fusion bar Pokito is owned by Japanese American painter Jisho Roche Adachi and partner Natasha Otrakji. They opened it in 2015 with the hope of creating an inclusive, collaborative space that highlights the dialogue between hospitality, design, and visual arts, as well as the owners’ various cultural backgrounds. Cocktails such as the Yuz + Me and Lolita are made with Asian-inspired ingredients like yuzu liqueur and butterfly pea flower-infused vodka, and the non-alcoholic section features a yerba mate soda, popular in Latin America.
Reception Bar owner Katie Rue brought her Korean American background to her soju bar located in the Lower East Side, where she experiments with Korean ingredients and spirits to tell a story of what it means to be Asian American. What started as a family-style, multi-course dinner series at Rue’s apartment turned into a community-based bar where she hopes to recreate some of the interpersonal connections between patrons that were so central to the dinner series. The cocktails are made with Korean spirits like soju and makgeolli, which is a milky, slightly fizzy Korean rice wine, and incorporate fresh traditionally Asian ingredients like chrysanthemum and osmanthus. I particularly like the Cereal Milk and Melon Dew drinks, which are both makgeolli-based and reminiscent of my childhood. The Cereal Milk is made with walnut milk, rice orgeat, jujube honey, and chocolate walnut bitters and reminds me of the milk leftover from a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, whereas the Delon Dew keeps it simple with honeydew and honey and tastes like a crossover between a Melona bar and a cucumber agua fresca.