07photoBy Lingzi Yang

If you happen to be a ninja that needs to take a momentary sake break in the middle of a top secret mission in the middle of NYC, this is the place you would pick.
For people who love Asian food, and especially Japanese cuisine, St. Mark’s won’t be a new place for you. With big numbers of Japanese restaurants in this area, Decibel probably is one of most mysterious places. The entrance is an unassuming flight of stars downward, and if you didn’t know what you were looking for, you would easily pass this place without knowing there is a restaurant below. Of course you won’t have this kind of problem if you are a ninja. The first time I went down the stairs, I felt like I was stepping into a dark Tokyo dungeon full of graffiti, with tables where hip-looking people were seated surrounded by different bottles of sake.
Opened in 1993, Sake Bar Decibel is New York’s original Japanese sake bar, offering New Yorkers their first glimpse into the sake culture of Japan. Looking over the menu, there is a very extensive sake/shochu list along with cocktails made with the like. We had an interview with the general manager in Decibel, and as a sake lover, he told us a lot about the culture of sake.07
There are three main types of sakes, called Daiginjo type, Junmai type and Ginjo type. For young girls, the manager recommends the Daginjo sake, which is the most polished (you have to polish almost 50 percent of the rice) and tasted really fruity and soft. For guys, maybe you can try the Junmai type, which is stronger and less polished. Different percentage of rice brings out different flavors, the more it’s polished, the more fruity and soft it is. Just like red wine, sake ages. It usually takes at least six months. Different maturities bring out different flavors as well. For example, the autumn sake is more mature than summer sake. The young sake tastes a little bit sour and sweet, but the longer it is, the sourer and stronger you taste. There are also filtered and unfiltered sake, but most sake is filtered to smooth its flavor, but nigori sake is left unfiltered, with cloudy rice sediment left in the bottle. Unfiltered sake tends to be fuller and sweeter, and this sweetness makes it a good introductory sake. We’ve drank almost seven different types of sakes, and the more we had, the more we learned to appreciate it. And if you are really not a big fan of sake, you can also try the special cocktails here, which, coincidentally, are made of sakes!
In addition to sakes, there are also a lot of typical izayaki foods you can also choose from on the menu. Speaking of the special dish, the manager recommends a dish called EI NO HIRE. The consistency is like jerky but it is actually made of boiled stingray. It is also paired with spicy kewpie mayo on the side. It’s a good snack to accompany a night of sake drinking.
Underground, covered by graffiti…the Japanese gangster style decor makes me feel like I’m sitting at a local bar in Tokyo instead of Manhattan. Affected by the relaxing, grungy romantic vibe, you can find nothing but a good time among the shadowy darkness.
If you want to grab a drink after work, looking for a dim, low-volume and intimate atmosphere to carry on a decent conversation, or looking for a huge selection of sake, this is definitely the place for you. With almost 100 of Japan’s finest sakes available, Decibel is the closest to Japan you can get without stepping on a plane. In a word, if you’re a sake lover, this is the place that might empty your wallet but leave you lovestruck.