The Watering Hole: Maekawa, 601 S. King Street St. Ste 206, 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 with Fort St. George, a restaurant and bar owned by the same owner. But while the Fort is dark and broody, Maekawa Bar, is the light in the night. Its bright and convivial space, while discreet by day, shines brightly through its wall of glass windows.
Maekawa's bar-friendly food comes out of a small kitchen, and its intimate space is a portal to a neighborhood bar in Tokyo where late night diners enjoy yakitori and ramen with cold mugs of beer. However, with food so good, the bar by the door can at times look lonely, but if you fail to note the drink specials, the bartender would insist that you're missing out.
The Bartender: After returning from his stay in Japan, Kyle Ketner took a job in Maekawa's kitchen where he kept his Japanese speaking 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 became fair game. Currently, he alternates between the bars at Fort St. George and Maekawa, but for the homey izakaya, he keeps it simple and traditional.
The Kingjyo at Maekawa
The Drink: The Kingjyo, meaning "goldfish," is simple and 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 up top. but stays crystal clear below, where a bright green shiso leaf lays quietly like a lotus leaf on a serene pond.
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. This delicate drink is warm on impact with a spicy tingle on the back palate; its greatest draw, the release of the shochu's aroma when awakened by a splash of hot water. While the Kingjyo is clearly the drink for shochu lovers, it can make shochu lovers out of rowdy frat boys.