Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sake Bar Decibel

Sake Bar Decibel is New York's original Japanese sake bar. It doesn't feel like a sake bar that just happens to be in New York, it feels more like those of us that live in New York somehow quantum leaped into a sake bar in Tokyo or Osaka. In fact, it took me back to the kind of watering holes we visited as college students experiencing a strange and warped coming-of-age while studying in Japan.

The way you find Sake Bar Decibel is with this sign, then you walk down the stairs to the basement.

Once there, we were ushered under a white rope and led into the main bar area (we're not sure what was up with that white rope). The first things you notice are how dark and small the bar is. It's a bit disorienting. It's not the best place for a claustraphic to be in, but the sake's supposed to help.

The pictures are really grainy but the bar is extremely dark and it's not the kind of place you want to use camera flash (for better photos of the place, visit the gallery section of their website. The website, by the way, has a great look and design). The walls of the bar are completely covered with writings accumulated over the years since 1993 by drunk people writing what they thought were poignant at the time. Of course, there were sake bottles all over the place.

One difference between this sake bar in New York versus the sake bars in Japan is the customers. Although the customers at Sake Bar Decibel were having a good time, no one appeared or sounded beligerently drunk. In contrast, by 7 PM at a bar like this in Japan, every single person looks, sounds, and smells like a very-close-to-alcohol-poisoning drunk.

Sake Bar Decibel offers about 100 sake selections from the different sake types - Junmai, Honjozo, Ginjo, Daiginjo, Unfiltered, and their "unique" selections. We were looking for our favorite sake - Rihaku - and found it on the menu. Unfortunately, it was the cloudy unlfitered version of the Wandering Poet but we were still happy to have some variation of Rihaku at a New York bar. The menu isn't as overwhelming as you initially think it is once you know how to narrow down the choices. We narrowed our choices down two ways - by price (we selected the ones that were in the $8 range) and by description (we selected the ones that were described as clean and crisp). We stay away from the sweet and fruity variations.

We were satisfied with all of our choices - Suigei, Genbei-san, Okagura, Kaori. We were also pleasantly surprised by the generous 5 oz size of the sake cups here (rather than the traditional 1 1/2 to 2 oz sizes), and our waiter generously poured an overflow into the boxes. A very great deal for the $8 price. Sake Bar Decibel also has a good selection of shochu and shochu mix cocktails.

The bar also offers food meant to be easily eaten with the sake - ochazuke, tofu, raw octopus, tsukemono, sashimi, karaage, unagi, okonomiyaki, baked rice balls, udon, soba, and edamame. We were laughing at first when we saw that they had arare and shrimp chips but then again they are pretty good drinking crackers. Their dessert menu consisted of our favorites - lychee fruit bowl, japanese sweet potato with caramel sauce, and mochi ice cream. By far the oddest thing to see on the menu of a sake bar - smoked salmon with brie cheese. Although they have these food options, you don't feel pressued to have to order food to sit at the tables.

Sake Bar Decibel is open Monday - Saturday 6 pm to 2:50 AM and Sunday 6 pm to 12:50 AM. They take no reservations. One thing we were weirded out before coming here were reviewers that said the waiters will follow you out the door to complain about you leaving "only" a 20% tip on the bill. Luckily, we didn't have a problem with this and had great service from our waiter that just moved to New York from Japan (although the other two waiters that served the other customers didn't seem as nice).

Our next sake stop will be to another basement sake joint - Sakagura.