The Watering Hole: Maekawa, 601 S. King St., Suite 206, 622-0634, INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT
The Atmosphere: Overlooking King Street in the International District is a Japanese izakaya that is authentic, from its cozy, lantern-lit space to its food. The bar shares the second-floor space in a small shopping mall, and an owner, with Fort St. George, a restaurant and bar. But while the Fort is dark and brooding, Maekawa is the light in the night: Its bright and convivial space, discreet by day, shines through a wall of glass windows. Maekawa's intimacy makes it feel like a portal to a neighborhood bar in Tokyo where late-night diners enjoy yakitori and ramen with cold mugs of beer.
The Bartender: After returning from a stay in Japan, Kyle Ketner took a job in Maekawa's kitchen, where he kept his Japanese-language skills sharp while learning to prepare traditional dishes. Once he turned 21, Ketner took his experience behind the bar, where ingredients like wasabi, yuzu, and shiso were fair game. Currently he alternates between the bars at Fort St. George and Maekawa, but for the homey izakaya, he keeps things simple and traditional.
The Drink: The Kingjyo, meaning "goldfish," is delicate, like the childhood pet. Ketner chooses a smooth and mellow iichiko shochu, one distilled from barley, for this simple drink made of shochu, hot water, shiso, and a floating chili pepper—the swimming goldfish. The glass cup—a fish tank of sorts—grows fuzzy with steam on top but stays crystal-clear below, where a bright green shiso leaf quietly lies.
The Verdict: This drink goes down smoother than a goldfish down a frat boy's throat, but despite its name, the Kingjyo is no Jungle Juice. Warm on impact with a spicy, tingly kick, its greatest draw is the release of the shochu's aroma when awakened by a splash of hot water.