9 Downtown NYC Bars for Experiencing the Old & New Side of Japan

There’s way more than sushi to discover.

One of the best things about New York nightlife is that it’s constantly changing, staying true to its roots while innovating around the next big thing. The same can be said of the city’s Japanese-influenced bars and restaurants: The sushi craze of the ’80s and ’90s has evolved into new spots that approach cocktail-making with the same sense of art as preparing a perfectly sliced piece of sashimi. Downtown Manhattan is home to a number of bars that are honoring classic Japanese culture and tradition and infusing it with a modern approach to the cocktails, decor, and food. Here, we’ve rounded up some NYC places where you can experience the best of old and new Japan and sample Japanese spirits like Suntory Whisky Toki®, Roku® Gin, and Haku® Vodka while you’re at it.

Alphabet City

The upstairs speakeasy at 151 Avenue C, above the live music club Nublu, reemerged from the pandemic in 2021 reborn as Studio 151/Ichi Go Ichi (Japanese for 151). The speakeasy vibes are still there — you have to ring a bell to gain entry to the second floor — and inside, you’ll find a four-seat sushi counter where star sushi chef Kamui Sumida serves one of the city’s best value omakase (just $80 for 12 pieces). Studio 151’s lounge atmosphere is modeled after Japanese listening bars, and as such, diners can reserve either the chef’s counter, high top, or a couch. Sip on a Moonlight Mile (vodka, blackberry preserves, lemon) and enjoy the beats as a DJ spins vinyl records from the redesigned booth.

Greenwich Village

This upscale restaurant just blocks from Washington Square Park is one of the only places in the city where you can find true Nikkei (Japanese-Peruvian) cuisine. Opened by the team behind Brooklyn’s Llama Inn in 2019, here Chef Erik Ramirez, whose parents are from Lima, highlights the specific style of cooking that developed from Japanese emigrants to the Andean country, marrying South American flavors with traditional Asian techniques. The duck nigiri is a prime example of this and a must-try; it layers aged duck breast over cilantro rice and tops it with a banana slice and nasturtium leaf. The bar stocks Japanese and Peruvian spirits, which it whips into cocktails like the Nikkei Martini made with Japanese gin, sake vermouth, pickled kombu, and a nori pisco rinse.


West Village

Mixologist Masahiro Urushido (formerly of Saxon & Parole and author of The Japanese Art of the Cocktail) is the man behind this Japanese highball bar/dive bar mashup, which opened in 2018. The space is lined with Japanese versions of American movie posters and the drinks menu is divided into highballs, signature cocktails, and boilermakers. This being Masa’s place, the highballs are way more inventive than a standard gin and tonic — try the Toki Highball (Suntory Whisky Toki®, lemon oil, koume) or the Light n’ Savory (Haku® Vodka, benedictine, celery and white balsamic shrub, cucumber bitters, umami salt). For food, there’s a menu of Japanese-influenced small bites like karaage calamari, nori fries, and a mortadella katsu sando.

Greenwich Village

This 1920s Japanese cocktail bar, opened in 2017, uses traditional Japanese spirits in recipes inspired by America’s Prohibition era. The name “moga” refers to the Japanese modern girl, and the decor is modeled after a Taisho era jazz bar where such ladies came to life. For drinks, try The Moga, made with Japanese whisky, rhum, aged plum liqueur, and bitters; or the Silk Merchant, mixed with gin, lemon, shiso, grapefruit, Calpico, cardamom, and rose. Rounding out the Taisho concept is a menu of western comfort food, which boomed during that era, with dishes such as panko fried prawns, a pork potato salad, and snow crab croquettes.

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Courtesy of House of Suntory

You can’t fully experience a Japanese-style bar without drinking Japanese spirits. House of Suntory was built in 1899 with the singular vision of crafting quintessentially Japanese spirits that embody the nature and spirit of the country and its people. Choose from Suntory Whisky Toki®, a blended whisky that represents the meeting of old and new Japan; Roku® Gin, made with six Japanese botanicals harvested at the peak of the season; and Haku® Vodka, distilled from 100% Japanese white rice for a clear, clean, and luminous vodka. Better yet, try them all and experience the full spectrum of Japanese craft spirits.

Financial District

Nobu Downtown is at once an old and new spot, since it moved to FiDi in 2017 from Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s original 1994 Tribeca location. In that time, Nobu has expanded into a global restaurant empire, and at this location, you’ll find the dishes that put Nobu on the map, like its iconic black cod with miso, rock shrimp tempura, and squid “pasta,” as well as fusion dishes. The move downtown also brought a new multi-level space designed by architect David Rockwell, with a ground level bar lined with limestone columns and a subterranean dining room that houses the 13-seat sushi bar (be warned, the omakase will set you back $225 per person).

East Village

By day, Hi-Collar (opened in 2013) is a kissaten, or Japanese cafe, but at night, the space transforms into a bar slinging Japanese spirits, a place where “high collars” are abandoned (hence the name). Keep it simple by ordering one of their 28 Japanese whiskies neat or on the rocks, or try a cocktail like the Roku Gin Iced Tea made with Suntory Roku® Gin with Earl Grey tea and lavender. There’s a night food menu, too, featuring homestyle dishes like udon carbonara, shrimp shumai, and karaage (fried chicken).

Courtesy of Bar Goto

Lower East Side

At this walk-in only spot established in 2015, Pegu Club vet Kenta Goto serves up cocktails alongside a menu of Japanese-inspired bar snacks like miso wings, okonomiyaki (savory cabbage pancakes), and kombu celery. But the drinks are really the focus here — Bar Goto was a semifinalist for outstanding bar program from the James Beard Foundation two years in a row — from its expansive list of Japanese whisky to its inventive cocktails. Order a refreshing L.E.S (gin, jalapeno, shiso, cucumber, lime) and settle into one of the plush green velvet booths.

Courtesy of Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya

Lower East Side

The first Blue Ribbon Sushi opened in New York in 1995 when chefs Bruce and Eric Bromberg (of Blue Ribbon Brasserie) teamed up with sushi master Toshi Ueki. That original location has spawned numerous NYC offshoots, including this izakaya opened in 2012. Located on the second floor of the SIXTY LES hotel, the Japanese-style tavern/traditional sushi bar prides itself on offering something for everyone on the menu, even non-sushi lovers. There’s yakitori by the piece, sushi and sashimi lists that are divided by Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean, and yes, you can even order the famous Blue Ribbon fried chicken. Fulfilling the tavern vibe is a well-rounded drinks menu including house cocktails like a Toki Highball (Suntory Whisky Toki® with soda and a twist) and a Lychee-Tini on the Rocks (Haku® Vodka and lychee puree).


This sleek lounge and sushi bar was a celebrity haunt when it first opened in 1998, and two decades later it’s still a place to see and be seen. Located inside a historic brownstone, the three-level space is divided into a ground floor lounge and sushi bar, a main floor restaurant with its own sushi bar and cocktail bar, and an upstairs dining room. The menu is Japanese cuisine with European fusion touches (the tuna crispy rice is a staple) and the two bar locations mean you can enjoy cocktails in the intimate lounge or on the second floor overlooking cobblestoned Bond Street.