The 1920s were a time of rebellious women, and Japan was no different. Women known as moga (“modern girl”) were just as busy breaking polite society rules as their American flapper counterparts, and their moxy infuses everything at Bar Moga.
The West Village’s new East-meets-West fusion bar, now open at 128 W. Houston St., has been a year in the making by Becky McFalls-Schwartz, who’s managing the bar as well as creating the cocktails. “I love the idea of the creative female spirit,” she says. “I liked the rebelliousness, the freedom, the strength, I wanted to try and infuse the cocktail menu with that.”
The result is a cross between a Roaring Twenties speakeasy and a refined tea house (designed by Natalie Graham — there’s a woman behind almost every aspect of Bar Moga) with tons of textures like copper tin ceilings and parchment screens, dark and light woods, and paintings of moga women to inspire your own feminist debauchery. A playlist of Japanese surf guitar, rockabilly and garage rock, as well as American R&B, keep the vibe mellow.
McFalls-Schwartz is a protegee of revered barman Sasha Petraske, the first person to take a chance on her after she moved here from Utah in 2006. “I got my first job [at Milk & Honey] kind of by going in and ordering an Old Fashioned and asking if they had any openings,” she says. “I think they liked the idea that I ordered a strong whiskey cocktail. By the time I got off the train, Sasha had offered me a job.”
As a salute, her signature The Moga is a similarly strong whiskey drink (Japanese whiskey, rhum, plum liqueur) — “smooth and modern and a little bit unexpected.” For each sold, $1 will go to the ACLU and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. The rest of the cocktails are riffs on American classics made with Japanese ingredients, especially the versatility of shochu, a style of distilled liquor. We found them to be sophisticated but well-balanced, with warm, rounded flavors that you’ll have to slip slowly if you want to make the night last.
McFalls-Schwartz brought together a largely female bar team, and features all female winemakers on her list. Chef Takanori Akiyama comes from Bar Moga’s sister sake lounge SakaMai on the Lower East Side, creating small plates of yoshoku — Japanese interpretations of American food like the bifuteki (Salisbury steak) and salmon pastrami.