Opening any type of bar is a daunting task in the fist place, so it’s not surprising when new spots tend to streamline their initial rollout. At Hojoko at the Verb Hotel, they’ve taken the exact opposite tack, plunging headlong into a extensive bar program that ranges from the silly fun of frozen cocktails and punches out of a cooler patrolled by a wind up toy to intricate stirred spirit cocktails and a wide ranging sake offerings. But it’s all with a playful presentation, something like a Japanese sushi surf shack with video games, a decided 180 turn from chef and owner Tim and Nancy Cushman’s widely lauded O Ya.
Hojoko, which is a made up Japanese word that plays on the former tenants here, a Howard Johnson hotel, loosely means the child of Hojo, Daren Swisher, who runs the bar with Joe Cammarata explained. The feeling is meant to evoke the style of Japanese pub known as an izakaya.
“They’re basically a sort of third space on the map in the culture there. People have really small apartments,so the izakaya almost functions as living room. Generally the focus is on drinking sake, and the food is stuff that you want to eat while drinking, grilled food, and fried food — generally more assertive flavors.”
Plenty of those show up in the duo’s cocktails, like the Budokan, made with Hamilton Demerara 151 rum, Madeira, Demerara sugar, shiitake mushroom absinthe and bitters, a sort of improved rum Old Fashioned riff with a split base between the high proof rum and the fortified Portuguese wine. “The idea here is as it waterizes, everything kind of stretches out a little bit,” Swisher says. “Madeira has a lot of savory qualities and we wanted to reinforce that with the addition of the mushroom absinthe, a little bit of sugar, a little bit of bitter.”
The shiitake is one of many Japanese-inspired ingredients throughout.
“We wanted to include some Japanese touches, but we didn’t want to be over the top, with some accessible flavors that wouldn’t be too different for people, but would also be some natural pairings with the food,” he says. That means rice wine vinegars, miso, sesame, ponzu, sake, Shochu and so on. The Kyoto takes rye, Avera, Fernet and a tincture of sansho, a sort of a Japanese peppercorn with a light tongue numbing quality — but in a good way.
Frozen cocktails and punches are similarly well thought out, but more approachable. The pina colada is made with Plantations Barbados rum, Wray & Nephew overproof rum, pineapple and coconut, and comes with a toasted marshmallow.
“Generally the idea is for it to be fun,” Swisher says. “Joe comes from a pretty serious cocktail place [Ames Street Deli] but we wanted it to be approachable, we wanted to have a drink in front of you really fast…We’ve jokingly been calling it a not-cocktail-bar cocktail bar.”
If you go
1271 Boylston St., Boston