Sushiko co-owner Daisuke Utagawa was taken aback at the swift revelation of his plans to open a Japanese cocktail bar in Penn Quarter just near the greatly anticipated ramen/izakaya project Daikaya. He hadn't even had time to conceptualize the bar with partners Katsuya Fukushima and Yama Jewayni before word got out — leaving a whole lot of questions, including what the heck is the difference between a "Japanese cocktail bar" and a cocktail bar?
While Utagawa and team might not have the details yet, Eater got the restaurateur on the line to explain what he means by Japanese cocktail bar, why he wanted to do the project and also why Daikaya has been toying with the emotions of ramen-loving Washingtonians for so long.
What Utagawa thinks about all the media interest: "I am a deer in the headlights because we don't know exactly what this is going to be because it's so early. I am really amazed at today's media attention to food projects, which I think is fantastic. It means people really do care what they eat. Eating is a big, big part of daily life in Japan and Europe and in America that's really coming back."
What he means by "Japanese cocktail bar": "What that is still has to be defined in terms of how it manifests in Washington, DC, but our inspiration is from these cocktail bars in Japan. Obviously the cocktail culture came from America to Japan. When Japan gets things from overseas, it sort of starts to morph in its own Japanese way. ... So in terms of this cocktail bar in Japan, it is uniquely Japanese, but it takes a lot of form of American-ness. It's kind of a Japanese interpretation of an American bar. ... It can manifest in all kinds of looks if you go to a Japanese cocktail bar in Japan. It could look like old-times United States. It could look like a clean, serene Japanese-looking zen space that serves unbelievably detail-oriented cocktails and otsumami, to a real sort of neighborhood place where the bartender kind of knows everybody in the neighborhood and it's a place to go and relax from your daily grind. So we don't really have a definition of what "Japanese cocktail bar" is because it takes so many forms."
What the bar will and won't be: "On top of that, which one do we pick is still under consideration. So that's why we can't really give you what's it going to look like, what is the menu items or what's the cocktail items. What I can tell you is it's a very small space so it's going to be cozy. It's not going to be high-energy bar with music blasting. It's going to be more, in a sense it's going to be an oasis."
How the project came about: "It's really the location. The location was there, we loved it, we thought, "Wow, it'll be a cool thing to do there like a little brother to Daikaya." That's where we started. And we loved the building. The building is gorgeous and that area is kind of cool and we thought it would be kind of cool to have this little place that we would love to go. We'd love to say go to Daikaya and hang out and eat and have a good time and then go to this cocktail bar to relax and then eat ramen at the end of the night and go home. It's a very Japanese thing, when we go out, we usually go to several places. We usually end up with eating ramen or some noodles and going home. So we wanted to do that in DC."
Daikaya status update: "Daikaya is coming along swimmingly. We had to delay it simply because of the permitting issue. ... It was a big process because we had to go and change the zoning. If we're going to build a new building, you have to normally have parking requirements, residential requirements. You saw the the lot. How could you possibly put parking and residential in that? So you have to go to this thing called a Board of Zoning Administration, which is normally for people who have half a billion dollar development projects. Luckily the neighbors really had strong support for us to go in and do the restaurant. So we got that.