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2 weeks ago

The Okinawa Sawa by Koi Bā

Cocktail of the Week: This Williamsburg speakeasy stands out with loud Japanese flavors.

By Grace Taylor

Williamsburg is not short of quirky drinking holes. The last time I was in the area, I spent the afternoon enjoying a flight of craft ‘spiked’ naturally flavored kombuchas in a bar with a sparkly disco ball. Arguably, residents and visitors are already spoiled for choice. The addition of Koi Ba simply adds to the superb offering.

To establish yourself within this neighborhood, never mind the rest of New York, just being ‘different’ is not going to cut it. The stakes are high. Bringing something original, authentic and reliable helps, but the city is cutthroat, so even great concepts don’t always make it. 

Building (literally) on top of an already-established neighborhood favorite, however, might give you a helpful head start. Supranee Phramdang’s Nem’s Japandi (Japanese Scandinavian fusion) Bistro was already a well-known local spot, offering warm, family-like service and innovative tasty food. The combination of a well-established customer base and an empty second floor led to the birth of Koi Bā, the upstairs Japanese-inspired speakeasy. 

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Mixologist crafting cocktails at Koi Ba
Ricky Dolinsky crafting one of Koi Ba’s twelve craft cocktails / ©Koi Ba

While both the interior and flavors of traditional Japanese lounges are built upon zen-like, muted principles, this Japanese-inspired cocktail bar is anything but. Zesty and edgy, the bite and essence of New York is fantastically incorporated into the atmosphere and flavors of Koi Ba. A red neon sign illuminates the stairs up to the hidden space, setting the speakeasy vibe, and once upstairs, visitors are greeted by an unforgettable giant koi fish sculpture that hangs above the bar. 

The menu showcases twelve signature cocktails. Flavors are locally sourced, further enhancing the ‘New York meets Japan’ edge, and making for some truly innovative flavors. While these craft cocktails are the stars of the show, the bar also offers Japanese beers, a curated sake repertoire, a wine list and tasting flights of house whiskeys.

With the success of the downstairs restaurant, it would make sense for Nem’s to also provide the bar’s tasty bites. We enjoyed a multitude of perfectly prepared Asian-inspired small plates. A bite that combined the concept of Japanese crispy rice and arancini stood out as both deliciously and amusingly innovative.

[See more: 20th Anniversary Cocktail by Gin 44°N Terre Blanche]

Okinawa Sawa
The Okinawa Sawa features hints of pineapple, macadamia nut and coconut flakes /©Koi Ba

Ricky Dolinsky, Koi Ba’s beverage Director and Mixologist, is not only a talented craftsman but a wonderful entertainer. With plenty of city stories and a whole lot of passion for the bar, you can imagine spontaneously pulling up a solo bar stool one evening and being entertained for hours. 

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The flavors and ingredients of the Okinawa Sawa tap into the strong individual subculture of Okinawa (or so I am told). As soon as Ricky pours the cocktail, Koi Ba fills with the sweet, nutty smell. The taste evolves from tart to sweet as hints of pineapple and macadamia nut emerge. Toasted coconut flakes give warmth to the cocktail. Don’t be alarmed by the surprising addition of curry syrup, it blends remarkably well and keeps the drink from being too sweet. 

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1 ½ oz Coconut infused Bourbon

¾ oz lemon juice

¾ oz macadamia orgeat

¼ oz Los Arcos sherry

¼ oz Giffard Pineapple cask

½ oz Vinadaloo curry syrup

3 dashes tiki bitters

Egg white

Bar spoon Laphroaig float 

Dried coconut bourbon garnish, bitters 


Combine all the ingredients except for the Laphroaig and dried coconut in a shaker and dry shake for 30 seconds. Add ice and shake vigorously until chilled and frothy. Double strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with the Laphroaig float, dash of angostura bitters and dried coconut flakes.

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