Despite being the managing partner at one of New York’s most notable new bars, Masa Urushido is quick to attribute his success to the hospitality community that helped him along the way.
After working as a food runner at Tableaux in Tokyo in 2001, he dove head-first into the world of fine dining, working closely with restaurateur Hiro Shinkawa. Seven years later, he moved to New York where he met Naren Young who helped him land a bar manager position at Saxon + Parole, where he stayed for another seven years. During his tenure there, the bar team racked up numerous titles including “World’s Best Restaurant Bar” from Tales of the Cocktail in 2013.
Last year, Urushido left his longtime post at Saxon + Parole and, with partners James Tune and Greg Boehm, opened his own West Village bar, Katana Kitten, which has quickly garnered industry-wide acclaim.
But beyond the accolades, Urushido just wants to ensure his guests are enjoying themselves. He explains that each drink should easily convey its “simplicity and deliciousness” just by the description on the menu—which, at Katana Kitten, is pared down to five highballs, five signature cocktails and five boilermakers. In stark contrast to the expected formality of a Japanese-style cocktail bar, the menu, with drinks like the Midori-laced Melon-Lime Soda, showcases a playfulness that carries over to the rest of the bar’s atmosphere.
For Urushido, however, the highest compliment he could receive is a repeat order. “If a guest orders the same drink again, that’s the first sign that maybe we’ve made a good drink,” he says.
So what does Urushido do when he’s not manning the pouring Okinawan rum for Daiquiris? Here, he tackles our Lookbook Questionnaire to share his weekend routine, his economical wine bar order and a lifelong instant noodle habit he’s not quite ready to kick.—Tatiana Bautista
Director of Deliciousness at Katana Kitten; Managing Partner.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I wanted to be like my dad, the kindest person I’ve known in my life.
Best thing you ever drank:
Chivas Regal 25 year when my daughter was born in November 2017. The bottle was gifted to me by my friend Max Warner. It was a very rich, complex whisky. I had many sips in the nursing room next to my wife with our newborn wonder peanut. It tasted absolutely spectacular and sweet, especially after having six tall boys of Red Bull the night before when my wife was in labor.
Worst thing you ever drank:
The first sip of lukewarm ramen broth at a well-known ramen place in NYC. The broth needs to be “hot” yo.
First time you ever got drunk:
First time I ever got drunk (and very sick), was at this very shabby, abandoned shack on a mountain in Japan. I was with my friends, and we were enjoying a selection of very fine spirits from 7-Eleven, straight out of the bottle.
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
My 18-month-old daughter singing “Old McDonald” and the ABC’s.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
We have a family routine of going to the Carroll Gardens farmers market on Sundays to pick up an absolutely gorgeous herb salad mix for a week’s worth of vegetable intake. But I love Cup Noodles and all other kinds of instant noodles, especially the ones from Japan that are loaded with MSG. It’s hard to give up eating them because I’ve been doing it since I was a kid. They are all too satisfying—and sickening at the same time.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
The usefulness, amazingness and joy of riding Citi Bike instead of dealing with the intensity of a fixed gear bike.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
A pre-diluted bottled Martini with a Japanese daikon radish broth. It tasted like a burp.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
Doing my family’s laundry, washing my daughter’s tiny socksies and maybe getting a quick Michelada across from the laundromat. Cooking for my family, feeding my beautiful daughter her favorite rice, beans and poached salmon, and listening to her singing, and napping.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
A drink called “Skinny B*tch.” I was working at a busy nightclub right after I moved to New York from Tokyo in 2008. I was trying to ask her what was in the drink with my not-so-good English in a very loud room. She taught me how to make it: vodka and Diet Coke.
Your favorite bar, and why:
Bā’sik in Brooklyn. It’s such a great neighborhood bar I admire. Everyone in the room is happy, bartenders are so sweet and make delicious drinks. Whenever I find myself sitting at the bar or in the backyard, it makes me feel so lucky to be living in Brooklyn. It’s the best city I’ve ever lived in.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
Every meal I’ve had with my two grandmas at the same lunch spot in Nagano, my hometown. They have the best homemade soba noodles and tempura in Japan. We sit at the same table every time, with the same mountain view and supermarket through the window. It’s nothing fancy, but it feels like one of the most luxurious times of my life.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
I’ll have one of the specialities of the bar, like Benton’s Old Fashioned, Garibaldi, Mole Negroni, Celery Gimlet or DR [Dead Rabbit] Irish Coffee.
The most affordable one by the glass.
In a dive bar?
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
Cup Noodle + pork fried rice + PBR.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
I appreciate everything that has good alcohol and love.
The last text message you sent:
Asking the whereabouts of my best friend: “Donde Tisimo?!”