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  • A Japanese sake bar that provides at-home cooking and a relaxing space

A Japanese sake bar that provides at-home cooking and a relaxing space

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By Aya Ota

Sake Bar Satsko” stands like a hide-out in a corner of Alphabet City in the East Village District. As soon as you step into the space, you feel so comfortable and nostalgic, like you have just come home. You almost can’t help saying, “Tadaima (I’m Home! In Japanese). Everybody in the restaurant looks relaxed in an intimate and family-like ambience, and you cannot tell the difference between the staff and the customers.

The owner, Satsko Watanabe opened this place in 2004. The 3 years prior to the opening were periods of struggling and researching for her. While struggling with raising a child as a single mother, she worked as a database designer for a company for 25 years. Exhausted from working in the competitive and ever-changing IT industry for so long, she decided to quit, and became a home-maker.

After a year or so of being at home, she thought, “I want to do something creative like flower arrangements,” and knocked on the door of a flower shop, and made a proposal. “Please teach me flower arrangements. In return, I am willing to work for free.” For a while, she could neither learn the flower business, nor make friends with the co-workers, but she just kept going there. One day, she started to bring a lot of home-cooked dishes to give to the co-workers at lunch time. Her flower arranging skills were still not quite at an approved level, but her cooking was raved by everyone, which quickly shortened the distance between her and the co-workers. She could have kept working at the flower shop, but she was slowly realizing that what one can be most passionate about in life is eating and drinking. She thought, “New York is a lonely city. I want to create a place where people gather and relax, enjoying home-style meals and sake,” and opened a café-style restaurant. Then, obtaining a liquor license a half year later, she has been running the place as “Sake Bar Satsko” since then.

Back then, in New York, there were not many bars where mainly Japanese sake was served. Sake was not quite recognized yet, so her place was a pioneer in this field. Most of the customers were thinking that Japanese sake was meant to be served hot, so Satsko repeatedly held tasting events in order to enlighten customers with the right ways to enjoy tasty Japanese sake. They say that it is important to educate bartenders to stretch sake sales. Her restaurant has 5 bartenders, and the sake brands for which those bartenders know well, make good sales.

“Customers don’t come unless the food tastes good,” says Satsko. Although the name is “Sake Bar”, the food menu is well thought out, and their motto is to create simple dishes using fresh ingredients. For a while, the dishes, which gained positive feedback from the co-workers at the flower shop were mainly served. Later, her daughter, Amy, who was born and raised in the US, who has a keen sense in tasting foods, suggested arrangements to her mother’s original recipes, which created newly re-born dishes. Each dish is homey yet, innovative, and the tastes make one want to have more sake to go with it.

Most of the customers are acquired by word of mouth. To let Americans know, they advertise only through Google. You cannot say that the location is ideal; however, they are so popular lately, having 4 rotations on weekends, and reservations are always required. Sometimes, you see a bunch of people waiting outside. The Polaroid photos that tightly fill the interior walls used to be taken as the proof of visited customers when they were not yet popular. Now it is a laughing matter. They always try to talk to first-time customers and single visitors, which may be one of the reasons for the restaurant to provide such a comfortable ambience.

“I’d like to help our bartenders become independent and open their own places in the future,” says Satsko. Great tasting meals and sake, and a warm ambience in which customers can make friends – you should be able to see this Japanese sake community, which was created by 14 years in the making, expanding not very long
from now.


家庭的な料理とくつろげる空間を提供する日本酒バー

イーストヴィレッジ地区・アルファベットシティの一角に隠れ家のように佇む『Sake Bar Satsko』。足を一歩踏み入れた瞬間に、自分の家に帰ってきたような居心地の良さや懐かしさを感じ、おもわず「ただいま」と言ってしまいそうになる。店内では、客とスタッフの区別がつかないくらい、誰もが家族のような親密な雰囲気でくつろいでいる。

オーナーの渡邊さつ子氏が、同店を開店したのは2004年のことだ。開店に至るまでの約3年は、さつ子氏にとっては葛藤と模索の時期だった。シングルマザーとして子育てに奮闘しながら、企業のデータベースデザイナーとして約25年務めた後、競争と変化の激しいIT業界に疲弊し、仕事を離れて主婦になることを決意。

約1年、主婦をした後、「フラワーアレンジメントのようなクリエイティブなことがしたい」と思い立ち、花屋の扉を叩き、「無償で働く代わりにフラワーアレンジメントを教えてほしい」と申し出た。しばらくは、花の仕事は何も分からず、職場の人とも親しくなれず、店に通うだけの日々が続いた。ある時からさつ子氏は、家庭料理をどっさり作って職場に持参し、昼食に振る舞うようになった。花屋では、フラワーアレンジメントの能力はなかなか評価されなかったが、さつ子氏の料理をみんなが美味しいと言って食べてくれ、職場の仲間との距離も縮まっていった。そのままずっと花屋で働き続けることもできたかもしれないが、さつ子氏は、次第に、「人生で一番情熱を傾けることができるのは、食べること・飲むことだ」と気づく。そして「ニューヨークは孤独な街。人々が集まって、家庭的な食事とお酒を楽しみながら、くつろげる場所を作りたい」という想いで、カフェ開店を開店。その半年後にリカーライセンスを取得して『Sake Bar Satsko』と店名を変更し、今に至る。

当時のニューヨークには、日本酒を中心に出すバーも少なく、日本酒の認知度もまだ低かったので、同店はパイオニア的な存在だった。日本酒は熱燗で飲むものと思っている客が多く、さつ子氏は、ティスティングを繰り返し、日本酒の美味しさや飲み方を啓蒙してきた。また、日本酒の売り上げを伸ばすにはバーテンダーの教育が重要だという。同店にはバーテンダーが5人いるが、やはり、彼らが熟知している酒がよく売れるという。

「料理が美味しくないと客は来ない」とさつ子氏は語る。同店は、Sake Barと名乗っているものの、食事メニューに力を入れており、新鮮な食材を使ってシンプルに作ることをモットーにしている。開店後しばらくは、さつ子氏が花屋で働いていた時に仲間からよいフィードバックを得た料理を中心に提供してきた。その後、米国で生まれ育った娘のエイミーが、母が考案したオリジナルのレシピに、彼女の優れた食の感覚でアレンジを加え、新しい料理に生まれ変わった。どれも家庭的だが、斬新さを兼ね備え、思わず酒が進むような味付けだ。

集客はほとんど口コミ。米国人をターゲットにGoogle広告だけは出している。同店の立地は、決して地の利がよいと言える場所ではないが、最近では週末には4回転、予約をしなければ座れないほどの人気で、時には店の外に客があふれることもあるという。店内の壁にびっしり貼ってあるポラロイド写真は、まだ客が少なかった頃に、客が来た証拠として撮影し始めたものだという。今となっては、すっかり笑い話だ。初めて来る客、一人で来る客には、必ず話しかけるようにしており、それが同店の居心地の良さにつながっているのだろう。

「将来はバーテンダーたちが独立開店するのを支援していきたい」とさつ子氏。美味しい食事と酒、そして、客同士がすぐに友達になれるような暖かい雰囲気――14年かけて創り上げてきたこの日本酒コミュニティが広がる日も、そう遠くないに違いない。



Sake Bar Satsko
202 East 7th Street
New York, NY 10009
Tel: 212-614-0933
https://www.satsko.com/
Sun.-Thurs. 5:00pm-2:00am
Fri. & Sat. 5:00pm-4:00am
#alljapannews #sakebarsatsko #athome #NY #sushi #tempura

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