Multiple Japanese bars, restaurants and stores in the East Village, including one of NYC's most beloved speakeasies, are in danger of closing or being relocated due to a "massive rent hike."
According to New York Times reporter Alex Vadukul, who tweeted the news earlier this week, Angel's Share — along with Village Yokocho, Panya Bakery and Sunrise Mart, all located on Stuyvesant Street near 3rd Avenue and operated by the same owner — face eviction later this month when "a very old and longterm lease arrangement has finally come to its end."
The potential loss triggered an outcry of lamentations from longtime patrons, including director Alice Wu, who told Gothamist that Angel's Share was “one of the last places in the city where I could reliably take an out-of-town friend and con them into thinking I had the keys to a secret more fabulous New York.”
Maya Sakai, who grew up in the East Village and Brooklyn, said she had fond memories of ditching Friday classes at McGill University and traveling to the city to go to the bar with her then-boyfriend.
"He knew the mixologist there and was able to make us these tea infused bitters made of hinoki, sakura, yuzu — whatever flavors they had available. Spending time there elicited these feelings … the asymptote of longing," she said. "Like many of the city’s small hidden treasures, it would be a terrible loss and such a shame if it ceases to exist."
According to Department of Finance records, the buildings housing the businesses are all owned by Cooper Union. The college has not responded to multiple calls and emails about the situation, nor have the bar's owners.
Angel's Share, whose name refers to the amount of alcohol which evaporates as it is being aged in casks, was first opened in 1993, modestly tucked away behind an unmarked door in the corner of what is now Village Yokocho, an izakaya restaurant only accessible up a nondescript flight of stairs. It quickly became one of the hearts of the the East Village's Little Tokyo.
The bar is known as much for its romantic atmosphere — dimly lit tables that force you to huddle closer toward the person you're with, booths with giant windows overlooking the street below, the giant ornate Tiepolo-esque painting behind the bar, the debonair bartenders in vests, and the constant din of shakers and glasses — as for its distinctive craft cocktails, many of which are named after jazz standards. It is considered a trailblazer for bringing the sensibilities and training of a Tokyo-style cocktail bar to NYC. As Punch put it, they excelled at "all formality, intimacy and meticulous service," but were also willing to embrace new flavors and ingredients.
Oh. No. In the 90s, many a man knew that the way to a woman’s heart was to take her to what at the time felt like top secret Angel’s Share. Village Yokocho is so special as well. Sigh.— Sara Clough (@Sfclough) March 10, 2022
On Thursday evening, Angel's Share was even more packed than usual, with an hour-long wait outside its door and local TV news trucks camped on the street below. A bartender there sounded somewhat optimistic, telling Gothamist of the current situation, "it's between the owner and the landlord, but we're either relocating or staying here."
Grub Street reported on Friday that if the bar does relocate, its signature giant painting of baby angels will go with it.
Sasha Yosselani, a 30-year-old artist who lives in Bushwick, was at the bar having a drink with some friends on Thursday evening. This was her first time back at Angel's Share since the start of the pandemic. She said she was first introduced to the speakeasy almost a decade ago by a friend who worked at Panya Bakery downstairs.
"It had a lot of mystery about it, but when you walk in there, it's like you enter a different world," she said. "A world with a lot of care, a lot of craftsmanship, a very curated atmosphere. They're just truly visionaries in the way they [combine] all these flavors together...the passion for cocktail as this artistic experience and not just a way to get [drunk]. It's a very special place, it's an experience. I've brought so many dates here, I've brought so many friends here."
By email, East Village blogger EV Grieve told Gothamist it would be "devastating" for the neighborhood to lose these places.
"Everyone seems to have a story about their first time in Angel's Share — nervously navigating through that unmarked wooden door to impress a date or friend from out of town as if you'd done it a dozen times previously," they said. "That stretch of Stuyvesant Street between Ninth Street and Third Avenue has been such a high-profile, much-loved micro-center of Japanese culture for nearly 30 years. Hard to imagine that going away. Given the proximity to Astor Place and NYU, you can't help but wonder what kind of national chain the landlord has designs on for the retail space."
Scott Heins provided additional reporting.