By Sandy Wong
Bar Moga, located in NYC’s Greenwich Village, is a cocktail bar and restaurant inspired by the figure of the moga, or “modern girl,” that emerged in early 20th century Japan. Owing to the progressive political environment of the time, women were granted unprecedented freedom to become self-supporting and independent. Like their western counterpart, the flapper, the mogas of the Taisho era (1912 – 1925) enjoyed a liberal lifestyle, free to see (or not see) whom they pleased, smoke, drink, listen to jazz, discuss philosophy, and dress in the latest western fashions (among other things).
Bar Moga seeks to embody this rebellious fusion of East & West in its menu offerings, decor, music (there’s plenty of Japanese surf guitar, rock & roll, and American R&B), and diversity of staff. Although the moga refers to a specifically female entity, Bar Moga celebrates the genderless spirit of the moga: a spirit of empowerment, accessibility, culture, and of course, hedonism. Opened in April 2017, Bar Moga’s signature cocktails incorporate traditional Japanese spirits into recipes inspired by those of the American prohibition era.
In 2018, Frank Cisneros, an American, Tokyo- trained Japanese cocktail and bartending expert, was brought on to further expand the bar’s offerings. Frank has shared his extensive knowledge of Japanese bartending with Bar Moga’s staff and patrons, in an effort to bring superior omotenashi – or Japanese hospitality – to guests.
Several new elements have been introduced to the bar program, including more signature and classic cocktails showcasing unique Japanese ingredients and bartending techniques, a greater emphasis on Japanese spirits, especially shochu and whisky highballs on tap, a newly dedicated 8-seat section of the bar that offers a prix-fixe omakase-style experience and updates to decor including stylish new staff uniforms and a minimalist bar top free of bottles and tools. As always, $1 from each sale of its namesake cocktail, The Moga, is donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and ACLU.
This continued concept evolution reflects Bar Moga’s forward-thinking philosophy and dedication to the hospitality-driven Japanese cocktail experience.
Chef Takanori Akiyama, the longtime chef of the Lower East Side sake bar and restaurant, SakaMai, has created the food menu, focusing on a style of cuisine known in Japan as yōshoku, which literally translates as “Western food.” It is a large part of Japanese food culture; yōshoku dishes are considered comfort food, cooked at home or enjoyed at westernized Japanese diners. Yōshoku originated during the Meiji period (1868-1912), and boomed during the Taisho period, so Chef Akiyama felt the style of cuisine was perfect for Bar Moga.
The yōshoku dishes that were created during this period developed from non-Japanese ingredients such as ketchup, demi-glace sauce, cheese, breadcrumbs, and tartar sauce. Chef’s menu for Bar Moga highlights many popular yōshoku dishes such as Omu Rice, Fried Shrimp, and Croquettes; he’s also snuck in a couple dishes that are often served at both izakayas and yōshoku restaurants, such as ramen.
The 73-seat space, designed by Natalie Graham at 3 Day Monk, incorporates advertisements of the time, vintage-style lighting, rich woods, and a fireplace. Its many partitions and dropped ceilings are intended to add shadows and mystery. There is an intimate private dining space in the back with a fireplace where the bar hosts cocktail/sake paired dinners and more.
Chef Takanori Akiyam
Chef Akiyama’s culinary path was paved for him at birth, having been born into a family of sushi chefs in Miyazaki on the southernmost Japanese island of Kyushu. After attending culinary school in his hometown, he sharpened his skills at Serina in the renowned Roppongi district of Tokyo, learning the art of kaiseki cuisine. In 1995, Akiyama was invited to New York to serve as executive sous chef to Chef Hitoshi Kagawa at Oikawa Restaurant, before moving on to Lan Restaurant as Executive Chef, and Forbidden City. In 2010, Akiyama went to Japan to be with his family, and re-mastered traditional Japanese cooking and reignited his passion for traditional Japanese cuisine. Armed with this spirit, he returned to New York to work as Executive Chef at Dieci in the East Village, before joining SakaMai in 2013 with the goal of creating a sophisticated, yet simple Japanese-inspired menu. His cuisine quickly gained praise for its ability to expertly merge Western influences with traditional Japanese cuisine, striking a unique balance of authenticity and approachability. Now, at Bar Moga, Chef Akiyama has been inspired to showcase the yōshoku cuisine popularized during Japan’s Taisho era, a perfect harmony of East and West.
Bar Moga is located at 128 West Houston St. 929.399.5853