Secret bars are the oldest trick in the New York City book. From prohibition to PDT, we’ve been hiding booze behind trap doors and payphone booths for nearly a century. And yet somehow, every time another “secret” bar or restaurant opens, we still get excited like nobody has done it before. “Did you hear about that new bar? It’s in the back of a hair salon and you have to get a manicure before they will let you in. Even dudes. It’s lit.”
That’s the thing about these “hidden” places - usually the fact that you can’t see them from the street is the most interesting thing about them. So often you walk inside feeling excited that you gained access, only to find yet another prohibition-style bartender in a vest slowly muddling some basil. I’m not sure this city needs any more of those.
What we do need more of are places like Karasu. Karasu isn’t exactly a “hidden” restaurant, though it is situated in the back of Walter’s in Fort Greene. And it’s most definitely not a speakeasy - or at least the kind of speakeasy that you’re imagining. Karasu is a cocktail-focused Japanese izakaya, with extremely unique drinks and very good food. You don’t knock on any fake doors or turn a giant bookshelf to get in, you don’t need a secret phone number, nor will you be asked to provide character references in order to get in. All you need is a friend or a date, a free evening in Fort Greene, and probably a reservation if you’re looking to go during prime hours.
That’s the thing we love about Karasu - the lack of pretense. It’s interesting but not annoying, relaxed but extremely well put together. The drinks are completely unfamiliar and extremely good, and the menu is mostly familiar and exactly what you’ll want to eat after (or with) a few cocktails. It’s the perfect place for a first date when you don’t want to commit to a meal out of the gate, but also don’t want to go to a wine bar because it’ll tip the other person off to the fact that you spend more time in pajamas than you do real pants.
But best of all, Karasu will actually surprise you. My favorite drink here has bourbon, cold brew, and “creme de banana” in it, three words that when put together make my throat want to close up. But you know what? It tastes like the best old fashioned I’ve ever had and not even a little bit like an allergic reaction to breakfast. That’s the kind of trick we’ll always be impressed with.
The thing to order at Karasu - fried chicken with a ponzu sauce and some sort of aioli. It goes very well with a cocktail, or with a side of more fried chicken.
If you’re really trying to do a full meal at Karasu and still have a few friends that still eat red meat and have somehow survived, this ribeye is an excellent move.
Another can’t miss from the menu. Fried pork always wins.
It’s a bit of a stretch to call this a caesar salad, though it does have a bit of a creamy, zesty kick and some briny flavor from the Japanese sardines in the mix. It’s good, just not entirely familiar.
Hijiki is a sort of Japanese seaweed, and this salad is a good way to start things at Karasu if you’re looking to keep it light before the meat shows up.