Ask a Bartender: Joe from Hojoko
Joe and fellow Hojoko bartender Daren have both been nominated for Eater Boston’s Bartender of the Year. Vote for them here.
Hojoko – The Verb Hotel’s rock ‘n roll sushi and late-night hotspot—may just be the coolest new kid on the Boylston block in The Fenway. The dark-wood izakaya hangout feels like the inside of a 1960s Japanese jukebox with its paper lanterns and neon pop fixtures, katakana posters of famous rock bands, open kitchen in the back and a long chrome and green formica bar, mood lit for intimate conversations over inventive cocktails.
We talked with resident bartender, Joe about Hojoko and the cocktails he’s fixing up for the fall and winter season.
So what are you making for us today?
It’s called a hato [Japanese for “dove”]. Going into the fall, we wanted to use a little bit of cinnamon in a cocktail.
Joe whips up the cocktail, naming off the ingredients as he adds them into the shaker.
Combier Pamplemousse (aka grapefruit soda), mezcal tequila to provide a little bit of smokiness, black rice shochu, a little bit of our homemade cinnamon syrup and just a squirt of lime.
Joe shakes the cocktail with vigor.
Where are you from, Joe?
I grew up in Melrose. I’ve been here my whole life. I live in Medford now.
What do you do on your days off?
I’m actually a brand ambassador for a whiskey company…so I spend my days off tasting whiskey instead of serving it! I just got married so I hang out with my wife a lot.
Nice! What’s her name?
Do you have any kids?
Not yet. working on it.
Are you a sports fan?
Big sports fan. I pretty much negotiated Sundays off for my whole career to watch the Patriots. I used to be a season ticket holder for the Celtics, until working at night got in the way.
So who were you rooting for in the World Series with the Red Sox out?
I was rooting for the American League team, just like my dad taught me.
Joe pours out the cocktail into a chilled glass. It’s a rosy orange hue.
Wow, that looks beautiful.
We replace the salt that would be there on the rim of the glass with a little bit of saltwater. And the finishing touch…
Joe lights a cinnamon stick on fire and serves the cocktail with the smoking garnish. The hato tastes as good as it looks, subtly sweet with a hint of smoke and spice.
Very cool. Is it fun having to use shochu and all these Japanese liquors?
Yeah, it’s nice to just have a focus point to lean on a little bit and make creations based on the food menu.
Behind the bar, a series of tiki cocktail tanks are aligned in a colorful rainbow beside the shelves of shochu, sake and Japanese whiskey bottles.
Can we talk about the colorful tiki cocktails on draft?
Well, we took what would be perceived as old crappy drinks and try to make them with fresh juices and good spirits. So this is our Blue Hawaiian—another shochu cocktail, vodka, nice rum, blue curacao, fresh pineapple and lemon juice. The green is our Tokyo tea, which is kind of like a version of the Long Island iced tea, we cut out everything except for the tequila, and then added a little midori with a little bit of lemon and green tea syrup. The Caribbean punch is actually a classic tiki drink that has root beer and a dash of absinthe and almond.
Do you encourage people to taste the rainbow?
What’s the best night in here?
Saturdays have been the busiest, but I really love Monday nights. We have a lot of friends come by, especially late at night to eat and it’s always kind of like a cocktail party. I always have a blast bartending on Mondays.
What do you think of The Fenway neighborhood?
I love it, I’ve worked in a few different neighborhoods in and around Boston and this is close to becoming my favorite area to work in. The neighbors are great, the community of restaurants is awesome, and we have season ticket holders for the Red Sox that were great toward the end of the year. Obviously there’s enough going on here where people come into the neighborhood from all over to check out a few different spots on the street.
If you could cut out right now and go to any bar in the neighborhood, where would you go?
If I get out of here early enough I would head over to Audubon. Super comfortable, always a smile and a glass of whiskey waiting for me. I’ve got a few more friends over there.
What’s your favorite cocktail in general?
If I’m out and drinking on my own, it’s gonna be a daiquiri.
Yeah, just like a classic daiquiri. Rum lined with sugar. Super refreshing.
I drink a lot of scotch Manhattans or Rob Roys. Kind of really depends on where we are or what we’re doing.
What do you think of the Japanese whiskies?
I love them. As a scotch drinker, it’s a very easy transition from scotch to Japanese whiskey.
Is there one in particular you recommend?
Yeah, I love the Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt…It’s sort of a blend of two single malts from the Miyagikyo and Yoichi Distilleries. So you get a little bit of smokiness and a little bit of those heather-like qualities. It comes in at a little over $50 a bottle.
And you guys have a pretty intense sake list, have you tried all of them?
I’ve tried all of them…I like the Kikusui Red Cup, it’s like super rich and savory almost like sherry and sake had a baby. It goes awesome with the food, holds up to the bulk of the flavors going on in the kitchen.
What’s your favorite album?
Jay-Z’s The Blueprint from start to finish. Every Monday night at Backbar, the alarm would go off at 11:42 and we would put on that record. It would bring us right into last call. That was always something to look forward to.