We love it when the scrawny freshman graduates to varsity level. And that’s just what happened to Kenta Goto’s eponymous neo-izakaya, which took home Best New Cocktail Bar honors at the 2016 Bar Awards, when it triumphed over a daunting pool of far more seasoned competition this year. Few New York bars have emerged as strongly as this two-year-old Lower East Side cocktail den; even fewer have bypassed the typical growing pains and charged straight to greatness. That’s thanks not only to Goto’s well-honed skills and artful attention to detail—fortified over an acclaimed seven-year tenure at Audrey Saunders’s Pegu Club—but also to the solidification of the bar’s truly singular, hyperpersonal vision.
Goto’s Japanese-accented cocktails ($15)—the Sakura Martini, swimming with junmai sake, maraschino liqueur and its signature salted cherry blossom, and the Umami Mary, a miso-splashed Bloody Mary updated with shiitake and Clamato—have transcended novelty and hit new-icon status. In any other spot, drinks this exemplary would be served with a side of haughtiness, but Goto & Co. operates with a near-selfless level of hospitality, a much-welcome appropriation of Japan’s omotenashi tradition. In fusing the best of classic cocktails with Japanese culture, Goto created a joint that’s, deservedly, the new big man on campus.