It's tough to surprise cocktail fans these days. If you've been paying attention to what the most inventive bars and mixologists are up to lately, chances are you've come across just about every cocktail imaginable, made with every ingredient or garnish known to man—but you've yet to see drinks quite like the ones at a certain buzzy new bar in New York City.
Welcome to ROKC. This brand-new Manhattan hangout—its name stands for Ramen + Oyster + Kitchen + Cocktails—is the latest from owner and bar director Shige, aka Shigefumi Kabashima, who made his name at New York City's cult-favorite bar Angel's Share, known for its carefully crafted Japanese-inspired cocktails, extensive and hyper-curated spirits menu, and enormous slow-melting ice cubes.
Photo credit: Zenith Richards.
At ROKC, Shige's drinks are every bit as meticulous as the ones at Angel's Share, but here the presentation is even more eye-catching, as in the Lychee (pictured above), served in a lightbulb glass. To make his extraordinary new roster of cocktails, Shige is finding inspiration in surprisingly down-to-earth, everyday sources, viewing random items he comes across as potential drink vessels.
“Behind the bar, we play with lightbulbs, bird’s nests and conches that serve as vehicles for our theatrical cocktails,” Kabashima (pictured below) tells The Feast. “I draw inspiration from all different places, from museums to antique stores. A couple of years ago, I was wandering around the Kappabashi Street in Tokyo—a magical street with many stores selling restaurant supplies and literally everything you need for a restaurant operation—and I found these lightbulb glasses. The shape itself looked so unique, and I had never seen a glass shaped like that before. So, I had to get it.”
But Shige's hyper-inventive cocktails aren't all for show: His masterful hand is at work in every detail, sourcing the ingredients, obsessively crafting the drinks, and pulling off the delicate, often precarious presentations. To make the Lychee, he combines bracing, lavender-infused Mizunomai shochu with elderflower, cranberry juice and freshly squeezed lime juice, then he places the lightbulb upside down inside a goblet.
Another guest favorite is his Tomato/Clam cocktail, which starts with mezcal and has a strong wasabi kick. It's a refreshing twist on a Bloody Mary, and Shige presents the drink in a conch shell. "I loved the idea of bringing an element of sea to the cocktail through the use of the shell,” he explains.
Even fragile eggshells serve as cocktail vessels at ROKC, as in Shige's version of a Thai Iced Tea (pictured below).
Photo credit: Zenith Richards.
Vegetables double as serving pieces too. The simply named Cucumber is made with a spice-infused, vegetal tequila and cucumbers, and served in a frozen bell pepper. Shige uses a power drill to create a hole in the top and slides a straw in for guests so guests can sip the drink through the top.
On his menu, Shige currently offers 20 classic cocktails and 20 of his signature drinks, in a space lined with textured, white-washed walls complemented by lots of dark wood. The ceramic dishware is all custom-made and sourced from Kyoto. The lighting in the bar comes via Edison bulbs, and the overall effect is transporting yet cozy.
If you can’t get there in person, you can still try your hand at a ROKC-style drink, the Smoke Cocktail, one of the bar's most theatrical (see recipe below). The dark, delicious combo of bourbon, Ancho Chile liqueur, Cynar and house bitters arrives inside a bell jar, with wisps of smoke spewing out. Along with the recipe, Shige gave The Feast a suggestion for how to create a similar effect at home.
At the bar, Shige mixes the drink and then captures a thick cloud of smoke underneath the bell jar before placing the jar on top of the cocktail. The smoke floats over the drink (a perfect Instagram-worthy moment), then guests lift off the top and sip on the cocktail, infused with notes of char and barrel-aged wood from the bourbon.
“You can actually make this at home, but in an easier way,” Shige says. “At our bar, we use a smoke gun, but you can put crushed cinnamon sticks in a cup or a bowl and burn them. Then turn the cup or bowl upside-down to trap the smoke inside," he suggests. "And it doesn’t have to be cinnamon sticks. You can experiment with anything really, like sage, thyme or rosemary.”
Smoke Cocktail Recipe
By ROKC owner and beverage director Shigefumi Kabashima
2 oz. Bourbon
1/2 oz. Cynar
1/4 oz. Ancho Chili Liqueur
3 dashes bitters
A few cinnamon sticks
Combine all ingredients in shaker and shake vigorously over ice. Strain into coupe.
Use a glass jar or bowl with an opening large enough to fit entirely over the top part of the coupe. Light a few cinnamon sticks until they're smoking. Turn the glass jar upside down and hold the sticks under it, until the jar fills with smoke. Place the jar over the top of the drink for a few seconds, to infuse the top of the cocktail with smoke. Serve immediately.
This week on The Feast, we’re celebrating all the inspiring, mind-blowing, over-the-top—and most of all, delicious—things that are catching our attention in the food and drink world. Stay tuned for must-watch videos, features on the chefs and innovators we love, tips on the most incredible Instagram accounts you should be following, and polls that let you vote on your favorites.
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