It’s a formula well recognized by Koreatown regulars; that neon-lit block of 32nd Street is chock-full of multipurpose venues serving the time-honored trifecta of drinking, dining and karaoke, often tucked away in nondescript office buildings and accessible through seemingly random elevators. Far less likely to boast such an establishment is historically industrial Gowanus, a rapidly evolving ’hood with its own share of niche entertainment (shuffleboard, anyone?). In a former warehouse space on Douglass Street, Insa offers a modern take on the Korean pastime, as reinterpreted by Seoul-born chef Sohui Kim and her husband Ben Schneider, the team behind Red Hook’s the Good Fork. Perhaps the most obvious indicator that this is no generic K-BBQ joint is the bar area, which is fitted with Hawaiian-shirt–clad barkeeps shaking up Korean riffs on tiki cocktails.
ORDER THIS: Rum-heavy island drinks whispered with Far East flavors ($12), bridging the gap between kitschy California tiki and its Pacific roots. Barman Dillon Mafit (Fort Defiance) gently tweaks a house mai tai, also available in a large-format punch bowl ($46 for four to six people), with a spritz of vanilla-bean–infused mescal for a smoky-sweet backbeat, while the K-Town Old Fashioned updates a heady blend of rye whiskey and dark rum with syrupy jujube honey tea infused with an array of spices (ginger, star anise, clove).
GOOD FOR: A booze-addled primer into Korean ’cue. Complimentary banchan appetizers (daikon kimchi, steamed egg custard) hit the table first, prefacing traditional plates like chewy tteokbokki rice sticks tossed in a zesty kimchi sauce ($16). Among the mains, standouts include a sweet-and-salty galbijjim stew ($35) pierced with a single bone dangling with tender hunks of short rib. Less impressive is the too-thin, underseasoned brisket ($28), burned to a crisp by an inattentive server on a recent night; opt instead for marinated yangnyeom galbi (beef short rib, $35), and elect to do the cooking yourself.
THE CLINCHER: The chorus of off-pitch singing near the bathrooms comes courtesy of five fantasy-themed private karaoke rooms (psychedelic, deep sea, etc.). Rooms (starting at $60 per hour) can fit up to 10 singers, with the largest holding 22. And whether you’re into Bieber or Benatar (the chef’s song of choice is the latter’s “We Belong”), it’s a guaranteed good time with a microphone in hand.