No one knows a bar better than the people behind it. For “My Bar in 3 Drinks,” the people running the best bars around make and discuss three of their bar’s most representative cocktails.
At Oldies, “We’re trying to recreate the vibe of some of our favorite cocktail bars in Tokyo,” says co-owner Erina Yoshida, whose family, as the Yoshida Restaurant Group, put Japanese-style drinking on New York City’s map in 1993 when it debuted now-iconic drinking den Angel’s Share. Not only did that bar launch long before Japanese whisky became all the rage and cocktails incorporating fresh fruit juice were near-ubiquitous, but Angel’s Share, which served as the training ground for revered bartenders such as the late Sasha Petraske (Milk & Honey), helped to introduce New Yorkers to the concept of a craft cocktail. In fact, it was among the first bars in the country to serve an inspired well-built drink made with fresh high-quality ingredients. And now, after debuting a number of other Japanese concepts, such as East Village kaiseki den Kyo Ya, as well as the newer Japan Village market and dining hall in Brooklyn’s Industry City (to which Oldies is adjacent), the group is back with a retro twist on its inaugural pioneering bar.
“[W]e wanted to play nostalgic music from the 1970s and call the bar Oldies,” says Yoshida, who opened its doors in December. “Many of the great cocktail bars in Japan have an old-school vibe, so we wanted to do that here, albeit with updated interiors.”
Oldies sidesteps Angel’s Share’s faux-speakeasy sensibility, as well as its seated-only policy, instead encouraging patrons to either snag one of the 12 chartreuse-colored bar stools (first come, first served) or simply order a drink and stand in the 400-square-foot space. Yoshida notes that she and her father, Tony, designed the bar with ledges along the walls so that guests without bar seats could have a place to put their drinks down. Wooden accents throughout lend a sense of warmth, while vintage library lamps reinforce the throwback theme. “It reminds me of the timeless jazz bars you find in Tokyo,” says Yoshida.
Anyone who has spent time at cocktail bars in Japan will know that in that country drinking while standing is relatively uncommon, especially at a high-end bar; it’s more of an American practice. But at Oldies, where East meets West, this merging of drinking cultures is the point. Yoshida says that at her newest bar, she wants guests to feel at home.
Below, these three cocktails capture Oldies in liquid form.
1. Kiwi Fresh Fruit Cocktail
Boodles gin, Maboroshi sake, fresh kiwi juice, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup
“We decided to not carry exclusively Japanese ingredients to honor our Brooklyn location,” says Yoshida says. However, the bar spotlights Japanese booze: spirits, sake and beer. Rather than creating complicated cocktails like the ones found at Angel’s Share, Oldies celebrates the simplicity of seasonal fruit.
“What we’re doing is unique. We wanted to create a cocktail menu that highlighted freshly squeezed fruit juice,” says Yoshida. At Oldies, drinks like the kiwi-based cocktail call for just a few ingredients, to let the star of the show, kiwi, shine.
“Inspired by a cocktail I had in Japan, our featured kiwi is combined with the botanicals and sweetness of Boodles gin and the rich, creamy, clean profile of Maboroshi sake,” says Yoshida.
2. Ume Plum Highball
Suntory Toki whisky, Kaori umeshu plum sake, Fever-Tree club soda, umeboshi
While using seasonal produce is Oldies’ primary focus, manifesting via a menu that highlights the best ingredients during a given month, that doesn’t mean the bar overlooks spirit-driven tipples.
“In addition to the fresh fruit cocktails, we have in-house twists on classic Japanese whisky highballs,” says Yoshida. “This incarnation takes Suntory Toki whisky and soda to a sweet and tart profile with the addition of ume (plum) wine and a pickled plum for garnish.” And when cocktails call for so few ingredients, “It puts an extra emphasis on the cocktail-making and on our bartenders to find the right harmony and balance,” she says.
3. Persimmon Fresh Fruit Cocktail
Etsu gin, fresh persimmon juice, honeycomb syrup, fresh rosemary
“Our handcrafted fruit cocktails have a factor of surprise for our customers,” says Yoshida. “We only display the produce name on the menu, without indicating the specifics of the ingredients in each cocktail.” Since the menu only reveals a single ingredient for each drink, each cocktail offers the unexpected; guests need to trust the bar.
When it comes to Oldies’ Persimmon cocktail, guests often display an incomplete understanding of the orange-hued fruit. “This cocktail is often greeted with excitement, as well as intrigue,” says Yoshida. The bar team uses drinkers’ unfamiliarity with persimmon as an inroad to talk about the bar’s fresh fruit cocktail list.