Piora head bartender Shinya Yamao landed in New York in 1996 to attend school at CUNY Lehman, and to pay his way he got a gig at a Japanese restaurant. He quickly fell in love with the hospitality industry, and upon graduating he continued to explore it by way of every restaurant job possible. It was during his time bartending at Tokyo Bar that Yamao met Piora owner Simon Kim, who led him to bartending roles at a handful of venues, including Matsugen, The Mark, and Perry Street. He’s most recently behind the stick at Piora, where he focuses on the craft of Japanese cocktails, especially in his art of hand-cutting ice to order. Here, the Hiroshima native discusses why ice matters, the mentor in his life, and his plans to debut the city’s first no-booze bar.


BoozeMenus: What’s the first thing you do when you start your shift?

Shinya Yamao: I check the ice condition and start to cut the ice for our cocktails. I do this first because after I cut the ice, the ice cubes begin to melt, so I need to put back them in the freezer until the restaurant opens in order to tighten them up.

BM: What inspired the ice program there?

SY: Hand-carved ice is a staple of a Japanese-style bar program, which is what we do at Piora. I make my own large ice block from which to carve.

BM: Why is ice so important for a cocktail?

SY: The taste of the cocktail is affected by what type of ice you are using. So many factors come into play – the size of the ice, shape of the ice, how hard the ice is, and so on. So, when you create your cocktail, or even just serve a spirit on the rocks, it’s very important to think about the type of ice that goes best with that drink. Depending on what kind of ice you use, it can totally change the cocktail.

BM: What cut of ice cube was the most challenging to perfect?

SY: An ice ball or sphere. Hand-carving the perfect ice ball requires a lot of practice.

BM: And which kind of cube is your personal favorite?

SY: The iceberg shape. It looks beautiful — just like an iceberg floating in the ocean near the North Pole.

BM: What's the biggest lesson you've learned in this industry?

SY: The main goal of working in this industry is to make people happy and give off positive energy. That’s what I’m doing with my work at Piora and that’s what I live for. I learned this from my father, who always dreamed of opening a restaurant, and from whom I learned about food and cooking. I also learned about the industry from books, such as Cocktail Techniques by Kazuo Uyeda. Growing up, I even learned about the restaurant industry from manga books, such as Oishinbo.


BM: Where do you find daily inspiration?

SY: Anywhere, from TV to a food market. Ideas exist everywhere, so I try to keep my antenna up.

BM: What’s something you hope to learn over the next year?

SY: I’d love to produce, sell, and market my own spirits.

BM: What’s the most interesting ingredient or technique you’re working with now?

SY: One of my dreams is to open a non-alcoholic cocktail bar. I’m also working on making non-alcoholic spirit substitutions. For instance, I make bourbon syrup, using actual bourbon, but I cook the bourbon and evaporate all the alcohol out, then add some sugar. I use this syrup and club soda to make a non-alcoholic whiskey-soda.

BM: What’s a piece of advice you would give to someone entering the bartending industry?

SY: Bartending is not easy. To be a professional bartender, you need to practice a lot to perfect your skills, learn about different types of alcohol and have the personality to make the customer happy. You need to be passionate about being a bartender — you can’t just be in it for the easy money.


By Nicole Schnitzler

(Photos by Michael Tulipan | From left: Beneath The Snow; Shinya Yamao pouring Wear & Tear; Wear & Tear)