What to Drink at Brooklyn’s New Bar Goto Niban
Award-winning bartender Kenta Goto just opened his second cocktail bar in Brooklyn. Here’s what to order.
In New York, bars come and go without much fanfare and the same goes for bartenders. But almost from the minute Kenta Goto started at legendary establishment Pegu Club he was able to stand out from the other all-stars working there.
While some bartenders attract attention with theatrics or an over-the-top shake, Goto commanded respect with his meticulous attention to detail and his devotion to the art of hospitality. In the middle of one of the loudest places on Earth, he established a bubble of enjoyment and tranquility for the guests sitting before him at the bar. It’s no surprise he was named bartender of the year at the Tales of the Cocktail convention in 2011.
In 2015, he opened his first solo project, Bar Goto. The Lower East Side spot has delighted New Yorkers with its Japanese-influenced fare and cocktails and received a sensational response for its menu, including its take on classic street food okonomiyaki and signature Sakura Martini.
Enter Bar Goto Niban. “Niban means second [in Japanese], but Bar Goto Niban is not a copy of Bar Goto,” says Goto.
While the new location on Bergen Street in Brooklyn is bigger than the original one, you can tell the two establishments are related, since they both possess the same warm and inviting atmosphere.
Niban offers an extra-long bar top and a custom wallpaper mural featuring an exquisite garden scene that serves as the space’s focal point. The goal was to create a room that echoed the first location in its details, like the dark walnut wood used throughout, but with a more elegant and romantic feel.
“Like at Bar Goto, at Niban both the design of the space and menu items are influenced by my identity as both Japanese and a New Yorker,” says Goto. “Both spaces are beautiful, but in different ways.”
Once again, the food menu is a collaboration with chef Kiyo Shinoki of Takumen, who also consulted on Bar Goto. Despite a few hits offered at both locations, like the delicious kombu celery and the Sakura Martini (give the people what they want, right?), most items on the Niban menu are new.
Goto has crafted a selection of ingenious original cocktail recipes using ingredients like shochu, ume brandy and dashi that pair well with dishes that highlight Japanese ingredients.
Here are the five cocktails and appetizers you should try when you visit Bar Goto Niban. This is one place we can all hope sticks around New York for a long time.
A Japanese riff on the Old-Fashioned, this cocktail comprises three main elements—rum, mole bitters and hojicha—but there’s nothing simple about it.
“Hojicha is green tea that is roasted after the leaves are steamed,” says Goto. “Along with removing bitterness, the roasting process gives it an earthy aroma and a slightly smoky taste. I think it really lends itself to use in cocktails because of its deeper flavor.”
This cocktail’s name is the Japanese word for “violet,” and Goto says that “like the flower, this is a gentle and subtle, but complex drink.” Served in a tall glass and garnished with a delicate flower, it combines shochu, gin, Calpico with a bit of crème de violette, and is topped with sparkling sake.
Blending two of his favorite winter ingredients—citrus and Cognac—this bright twist on the classic Sidecar includes bergamot, lemon and lime juices, and yuzu bitters.
“In an ode to Pegu Club where I started my career, we are garnishing the Bergamot Sidecar with a Pegu lime wedge,” says Goto.
You can tell that even the smallest of details have been carefully considered at Niban. The popcorn is no exception, and it is hard to find a more satisfying bar snack than its version topped with dashi (you can choose from umami dashi or veggie dashi).
Looking for the perfect popcorn pairing? Goto recommends the shochu, mezcal and celery Koji-san cocktail, which also uses dashi. “It’s an umami overload, but in a really good way,” he says.
One of the biggest attractions to Niban’s food menu is its selection of four different croquettes, or korokke. The main attraction is the classic korokke made with nikujaga, a mixture of potato, onion and slow-cooked beef, served with the house sauce (Kewpie Mayonnaise, soy sauce, and dashi).
“Nikujaga is really such a comfort food for me and brings me back to my childhood,” says Goto.
Other korokke options include the Chizu (potato, gruyere, bechamel, and parmesan), the Kare Raisu (Japanese curry rice), and the Eda-Ebi (shrimp and edamame served with tomato, onion, garlic, and anchovy sauce).