Restaurant: Sake Bar Decibel
Last visited: September 9, 2011
Location: Manhattan, NY (East Village)
Address: 240 E 9th Street
Subway: Astor Pl
Price Range: $10 or less
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
- Since 1993
- Funky Japanese atmosphere
- Traditional tapas menu
- Specializes in sake
- NY’s original sake bar
- 200+ sake list
- Very hidden location
- Underground/legal bar
- Great for sharing
- Loud atmosphere
- Very casual
- Limited seating
- Mon-Sat 6pm-2:50am
- Sunday 6pm-12:50am
Yeah I’m not even going to pretend that I discovered this on my own. I was introduced to this very hidden gem by my friend and I didn’t even know if it was legal at first. It was so discrete and literally underground and I was looking for an escape route before going in.
Sake Bar Decibel is located in the “J-Town” or “Japanese Town” part of Manhattan in New York, and if you’re a sake connoisseur or sake-lover then this is likely your idea of heaven… although it feels like entering hell.
Gah! Humbadah… hmmm. To be honest I was taken back to memories of Silence of the Lambs. The dungeon like atmosphere almost made me run back upstairs. It was shady. The red lights and androgynous characteristics were excessively hipster or exotically funky Japanese, and I had much more to absorb than the sake alone.
Forget the 100 bottles of beer on the wall! This was over 200 bottles of affordable to premium sake on the wall. It was the most beautiful wallpaper for a sake lover. It was the first thing you saw walking in and just by that I knew it was for serious sake drinkers and that food would become secondary. You come here to drink, eat, and play… and in that order too. I mean just looking at the opening hours: open until 2:50am Mondays-Saturdays, it says it all.
Although the place looks all secret and known to only “insiders”, it was packed. It was packed full of Japanese and then the people who are really into that “Harajuku” Japanese culture. It was expectedly very loud and they don’t take reservations so you have to come pretty early or be pretty patient. I’m not the target market, yet I was infatuated by Sake Bar Decibel nonetheless, but then again I’m infatuated by many things I don’t know much about.
This was only a very small portion of the sake menu. Thank goodness there were English descriptions and names, although the names meant nothing to me. I can’t even guide you through this menu because I’m no sake expert, but I just had to share this place with those who have a passion for sake. I don’t know anything of its kind in Vancouver, BC, although I imagine it would do incredibly well here. It truly embraces authentic sake culture in Japan.
So of course with that much booze there has to be food. I don’t even think there was an “official” chef in house, and the food was being prepared by wait staff, bartenders and anyone with a free hand. Things were being unwrapped from plastic wrap and the microwave was in full use, and none of this was hidden but happening right at the bar. It was no secret, and honestly nobody cared or was just too drunk to care… I didn’t really care either because I already had these expectations. I was there to experience the sake culture and ambiance, not the food.
It was as if Follow Me Foodie to New York became Follow Me Foodie to Japan for that short hour. The food was very traditional of authentic Japanese sake houses and drinking holes. This is what izakaya really is. It’s not a fancy, posh place with innovative offerings, but just a bunch of affordable shared tapas that go great with sake. I actually love the “posh style izakayas”, but if you want a true taste of izakaya and sake bars in Japan, then Sake Bar Decibel will deliver that raw experience.
On the table:
- $10 or $50 for 720mL
- Clean and well balanced.
- Steamed soy beans $3
- Steamed scallop with garlic soy sauce $6
- I’m pretty sure this was microwaved prepared, and again it’s not about the food here.
- The scallops were fine for being what they were and prepared the way they were, although including the mussel meat was unexpected.
- Warmed tofu with dashi soup, tenkasu, bonito flakes and scallion $6
If you’re looking for a fancier sake house and a gourmet style of izakaya or robata, then there is Robataya across the street. I had actually just come from Robataya for dinner (see here), so that’s also why I didn’t order or try much food at Sake Bar Decibel.