YOU CAN ORDER the Nightcap only after 9 p.m., and NR owner Shigefumi (Shige) Kabashima often recommends it as a last cocktail of the night. Not that it needs a recommendation. “When people see the cocktail poured at the table, [they] ask, “Hey, what’s the drink? I want to have that too,” he says. “They don’t really care about the ingredients. It looks fun.”
This bit of showmanship has a purpose. Kabashima starts the Nightcap with green Chartreuse — an herbaceous, high-proof digestif. He softens the Chartreuse with fresh lemon, honey, ginger, and butter. Lighting the cocktail on fire burns off the digestif’s “loud” taste and adds a caramelized smokiness. At NR, Kabashima heats a branding iron — in this case, a Japanese branding iron typically used on pastries — until it glows. He then touches it to the surface of the drink before pouring the cocktail into a one-of-a-kind antique glass. It looks as if he’s pouring a ribbon of electricity.
Have you ever seen ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’? The egg guy? He spent 10 years to just make the egg. But for me, it’s a little too much.
Such cocktails capture your full attention, but that’s true of many Japanese bartending techniques. Kabashima is a veteran of New York speakeasy Angel’s Share, a pioneer in the cocktail revival and the bar that introduced Japanese bartending to New York in 1993. Japanese bartending is more ethos than specific technique, but it’s full of legends: apprentices who carved ice for six months before they were allowed to touch a bottle, highballs perfected to an exact temperature, and bartenders judged by their decibel levels.
While NR employs the rigors of Japanese bartending, Kabashima has moderated some of its more extreme elements. “Today we’re known for — and everybody talks about — Japanese technique and Japanese hard shake, blah, blah, blah,” he says. “Have you ever seen ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’? The egg guy? He spent 10 years to just make the egg. But for me, it’s a little too much.” NR serves classic cocktails, of course, but it’s creative, entertaining cocktails like the Nightcap that truly captivate. “I teach the minimum things, but also the why — why I do this and all the details,” he says. “This is probably also the Japanese style. Just look at me, and just steal my technique.”
- 1 ½ oz green Chartreuse
- ¼ oz fresh ginger
- ⅓ oz lemon
- ¼ oz honey
- 1 oz water
- 1 slice butter
- Place all ingredients in a Turkish coffee pot (except for the butter) and warm with a propane stove. At the same time, heat the branding iron until it turns red.
- When the contents boil, turn off the gas and add butter.
- Put the heated branding iron directly into the coffee pot and heat it again. This will warm the green Chartreuse (which has a high alcohol content) and melt the butter instantly at a high temperature. It will also blow off some alcohol and make it easy to drink and harmonize.
- Pour and serve.
Jessica Suarez Writer
Jessica Suarez is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York.
Grant Cornett Photographer
Grant Cornett is a photographer and director based in upstate New York. He likes to take pictures of pristine detritus and austere moments.