Behind The Bar ~ Saxon + Parole

Saxon + Parole bartender Masa Urushido was just 19 years old when he landed his first industry job at Tableaux, one of Tokyo’s most lauded restaurants. “I was really lucky to get that job since I didn't have any experience in fine dining restaurants — before that, I was delivering pizza,” he says. After stepping behind the bar there and at Dazzle restaurant in Ginza, he moved to NYC for college. Soon enough, he was introduced to Naren Young — his “Jedi Master,” as Urushido puts it — who brought Urushido onto the Saxon + Parole team. Here, the Nagano, Japan native shares with us the last lesson he’s learned, the benefits of going bottled, and the flavor combination that has him hard at work.

BoozeMenus: How do you add a personal touch to the bartending experience?

Masa Urushido: With eye contact and a warm smile. I can make good drinks, too!

BM: Can you tell us a bit about your bottled and on tap cocktails - what makes them special?

MU: First of all — because it's fun!  But the most important reason is because we can serve them to the guests more quickly. For bottled cocktails like our Bottled Champagne Negroni, we prepare them before the service. We stir the Negroni, charge it with C02, pour in the individual bottles, top them with Champagne, cap them, and then keep them chilled. When a guest orders one, all we need to do is put a tag on the neck and pop it open, quick serve. Same with our Manhattan On Tap. We batch our house "Parole" whiskey and Italian sweet vermouth in a keg. It is much faster instead of pouring from each bottle. For service, we stir up house made leather bitters with the mixture from tap. It's faster. 

BM: What is Parole Whiskey - how is it made and how is it different from other brands out there?

MU: Parole whiskey is from Heaven Hill Distillery. The juice inside of the Parole whiskey bottle is "Evan Williams Single Barrel 10 years old.” We get to taste barrel samples from 10 -15 different barrels from different floors, we pick a barrel from season to season, and we purchase the entire barrel to use as "Parole."

BM: How do you incorporate it into cocktails on the list?

MU: We use Parole whiskey as the base to our signature drink, "Manhattan On Tap.” We also use it in other whiskey-based drinks, such as an Old Fashioned. It is very special.

BM: Who do you continue to learn from in a consistent manner? What’s the latest lesson you’ve gathered? 

MU: I learn from this whole environment — living and working in New York. As Naren taught me, drinking — and eating! — is a whole experience with your five senses. When you go out, walk around the city or travel to somewhere, it’s important to see, smell, and listen to the crowd of the bar or music — it all can provide a lot of inspiration at different times. We take all of that and put it into a drink.

BM: What cocktail on the menu really speaks your name?

MU: I love making all of these seasonal drinks that are typically twists on classic cocktails. Sharing deliciousness of seasonality and local flavors with guests in the restaurant is an amazing experience. But to pick one, I'd say the "Japanese Highball.” It’s just Yamazaki 12 year, hand-carved ice, chilled soda water, lemon oil. It’s simple, but I pay attention to all the different aspects of the environment and atmosphere every time I make it — i.e. temperature of the room, shape of the hand-carved ice, how the ice fits in a highball glass, temperature of the whisky, how the ice fits in the glass after I pour the whisky in, and so on. So all these tiny details of what's going on in the glass changes how gently or aggressively the drink is stirred after adding soda water. It’s garnished with a twist of lemon with lots of love.  It's not just a "whisky and soda," after all.

BM: What ingredients are you playing around with lately? 

MU: Salt and vinegar.

BM: How would you compare the cocktail culture in Tokyo vs. NYC? Which do you most connect with?

MU: I enjoy drinking a Dry Martini in Tokyo and a Negroni in New York. I'm originally from a small town in Nagano, Japan. It is a little strange, but I feel that NYC has more of a "home" feeling to me.

BM: Where do you want to travel to next for an exceptional drinking experience? 

MU: I'd love to go to Scotland and drink their whisky while sitting in the middle of farmland, and to breathe in the nature of the motherland. Just to feel it.


By Nicole Schnitzler

(Photos from left: Interior by Jason Lang; Masa Urushido by Lizzie Starr; Bottled Champagne Negronis)