Haru Next Door

Lately I have been obsessed with underground traditional Japanese bars, but that’s no reason to forget the many good ones above ground. In this case, Haru, not the restaurant, the offshoot bar at 76th street on the east side, fits the bill quite nicely. A sort of Haru next door, if you will.

From 10 pm to close (11 pm on Fri & Sat), all their specialty drinks are six dollars a pop, the drafts are three, and add to that a small selection of rolls for three or four bucks. Shochikubai sake can be ordered hot or cold. This is no junmai or ginjyo, but then again sake for four bucks isn’t supposed to knock you off your feet any more than the Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR – $1.50) I regularly order at my favorite wings place.

The bar flanks a pseudo restaurant, for patrons who want to sit on bright orange and white chairs, further sinking into the somber dining area. Take a seat at the bar instead, made plush by bright red techno décor straight out of a Hong Kong karaoke spot.

There’s a cocktail for just about every mood, and not all are sake based. Try the Haru lychee mojito or a green tea margarita, for a twist on classics. The vodka lycheetini delivers a wallop, while others such as the rum punch or komodo dragon run a tad sweet.

The alternative is a sake cocktail, and the saketini is well balanced and pleasureable. The sake mojito may even edge the lychee version. Order it again and again. The cherry blossom tastes like candy. Forget it. That leaves you with champagne mixes, but prosecco is used instead. If you must, try the enter the dragon with pomegranate juice.

After you’ve knocked a couple back, it’s time for a few rolls. The shiitake cucumber roll is savory, and the crunchy spicy salmon has good texture. The other rolls end up tasting very similar, so you might order nigiri sushi a la carte to augment the snacking. I always go for ikura with a quail egg on top, which at Haru was just fair, if not forgettable.

But value-wise, Haru next door should not be looked over, the value is there in a comfortable setting. It’s a good place for a hit and run, then off to an underground bar downtown, where everybody knows your name.