Kagemusha means “shadow warrior” … and was the title of a 1980 Akira Kurosawa film. The shochu gets its name from the black koji and robust imo flavor. The sexy black bottle & black label with gold and red trim add to the mystique.
Style: Izakaya, Yakitori
Address: 8 Stuyvesant Street, New York, NY
Phone: (212) 598-3041
A block off St. Marks in the iconic East Village neighborhood of Manhattan sits an entire row of Japanese businesses. A 2nd floor grocer, a bakery, a sushi place. But wait. What’s that? A stairway to the 2nd floor next to the bakery. As you climb the stairs you hear the buzz of happy diners. More than likely before you reach the top of the stairs you’re met with a line of waiting customers, red Kirin lanterns hanging overhead. Squeeze to the top and you enter the large multi-roomed dining hall of Village Yokocho.
Tables and chairs everywhere. A yakitori counter to the right with busy chefs preparing grilled skewers of all kinds. Wherever you sit, there’s an energy as the waitstaff hustles food and drink to the mostly youngish crowd. Blocks from NYU and with low prices, Yokocho is popular among students, but draws from other demographics as well. You never know if the guests next to you are just folks from the neighborhood or professors from the university.
Tucked in a corner near the lone bench for waiting customers is an unmarked wooden door. Through that door and you’re into Angel’s Share, a speakeasy cocktail lounge where Japanese mixologist do their thing. But we’ll profile them another time, perhaps after they’ve added shochu to their mixes.
Draft beer, shochu, and sake dominate the drinks list. Most customers seem to opt for beer, but bottles of shochu dot the tables as well. Affordable with a lot of different options, this is a place to come and drink with friends. The shochu list includes iichiko silhouette, Satsuma Shiranami, and Rento (a black sugar shochu). Bottle keep is available if you can’t finish.
Like many NYC izakayas, there is a strong focus on yakitori with a wide range of options. The duck skewers in particular are addictive. A very long menu rounds out a seemingly unlimited array of food options including okonomiyaki (Japanese pizza/pancake), kara age (fried chicken), etc. A definite highlight is the fried squid legs, which are just the right amount of fried, savory, and chewy. Delicious. Any number of unexpected dishes dot the menu as well, which provides the possibility of never-ending exploration. This is really a place to sit and drink and nibble. It’s not going to be the best meal you’ve ever had – maybe not even the best you’ve had that week – but it’s tasty, solid izakaya comfort food – and that’s all it needs to be.
The Verdict: Recommended
Where Village Yokocho truly shines is in providing an atmosphere where friends can gather in an energetic environment while drinking and snacking on a seemingly endless menu of Japanese izakaya dishes. While other izakayas provide this atmosphere, Yokocho gives customers a lot more elbow room than do some of the other East Village izakayas and it’s often a shorter wait to get in, though waits do occur routinely. Oh and if you’re looking for a place for a date – start with a drink at Angel’s Share and if it’s going well, suggest a move to Yokocho. Romantic and energetic all in one evening.