When I heard the 22-year-old Streeterville karaoke bar Café Shino had morphed into the sake lounge Murasaki, I imagined yet another generic spot for an afterwork drink.
I was wrong.
This place is serious about sake the way Hopleaf is serious about beer or The Violet Hour is serious about craft cocktails. If you care about booze and like to know exactly what you’re drinking, stop in for a schooling (they could use your business; the empty seats on Tuesday night made me nervous for this little gem). The vibe is more laidback-connoisseur-in-training than smack-you-over-the-head tutorial. Kerry Tamura—longtime owner Mitsue Tamura’s son and now business partner—brings a light touch to educating patrons on the wonders of the spirit.
Our request for a recommendation turned into a friendly evening studded with insider advice from Kerry: on the different grades of sake (polished rice comes into play); on the existence of a fantastic Oregon sake called Momokawa (we split an $18 half-bottle, served in beautiful purple glass cups); on sake cocktails (I tried the $12 Sake Piña, a delicious blend of coconut lemongrass sake, G sake, and sparkling wine); and on food.
For me, the $2 to $6 small-plates menu—featuring karaage, or fried chicken bits, and tako wasabi—was more foreign than familiar. Kerry explained that tako, or octopus, is considered an excellent pairing for sake due to its light flavor and bold texture. To our delight, he recommended the takoyaki, or fried octopus dumplings.
The space—dim lighting, plush high-back benches, low tables, flatscreens showing anime with the sound off, supplemented by background music—feels like a retro Tokyo hotel bar. And, yes, karaoke is still available: There’s a private room in back that accommodates groups of four to 16; $50 per person includes roughly one bottle of sake or wine for every four people. I’m more likely to go back for the sake than the karaoke—although if I do, you can bet I’ll be singing a love song to this little slice of heaven.