One of the best things about Japan is the ubiquity of the izakaya: small and simple taverns where you can get a convenient cocktail and bite to eat, often into the wee hours. Last year, during a layover in Japan, I decided to find a suitable izakaya to have a drink and practice my laughably poor Japanese.
I found a lonely spot and sat at the bar, fudging my way through ordering. I ended up with a glass of scotch and some slices of cucumber topped with savory-tart umeboshi paste. The experience was memorable and increasingly fun with each drink. It was the quintessential izakaya: casual, relaxed and unique.
Ichicoro Ane ("ane" meaning "little sister") opened last December in the Station House building's basement, known best for its long run as Cafe Alma. Ane's big sister has been a Seminole Heights staple for some time, so when a St. Pete branch opened, it was welcomed.
For good reason, too. It's mix of traditional and Japanese fusion cuisine was a perfect accompaniment for an adventurous cocktail list and comprehensive sake and whisky selection. It's more varied and certainly more spacious than a typical izakaya, but the vibe is absolutely right. It's a modern, hip take on Japan's answer to the Irish pub — a one-stop-shop for food, drink, company and often music, too.
There's a smart balance of hip and authentic at work, with hip-hop and electronic dance tunes playing in the background as customers sip steaming bowls of ramen with large wooden spoons.
The drink program, which ranges from sake to tequila to high-end Japanese and Scotch whiskeys, is among the area's finest. Plus, the wine and beer options are plentiful. And the cocktails? Wow. Most of the house cocktails expand on the restaurant's Japanese influence.
Take the Golden Saucer. It's a unique twist on the classic gin fizz, utilizing bean-based aquafaba for foam in place of egg whites, and a combination of miso syrup, rosewater, lemon juice and Velvet Falernum — a spicy-sweet syrup used in several tiki-style drinks — in place of citrus and soda water, all dressed up in a coupe glass with a flower bud floating on top.
Or the Black Mage, which uses activated charcoal amaro (you tell me) to add color and an herbal earthiness to draft IPA, pineapple turbinado sugar and lime juice. Or the Genji Glove, which combines white rum and draft matcha with orgeat syrup, orange cordial, lime and Angostura bitters in an oxidized copper mug with a dense mint sprig arising from the center like a fragrant bonsai tree.
With the name and reputation, it's easy to see Ichicoro Ane as anything but a down-to-earth Japanese-style pub, but that's what it is. See it through that lens and you'll understand why the format of Japanese bars works so well here.
— Contact Justin Grant at email@example.com.
260 1st Avenue S., St. Petersburg. (727) 300-0281. ichicoroane.com
The vibe: A Japanese-style basement bar with remarkably creative cocktails.
Food: Sides and small plates, $3-$8; entrées, $12-$18.
Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $5-$9; wine and sake, $8-$13 by the glass and $30-$175 by the bottle; liquor, $7-$15 and up for ultra-premium spirits. Happy hour is from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday–Saturday and all day Sunday, featuring $3 Kirin Ichiban draft, $3-$8 house wine and sake and $5-$7 cocktails.
Specialty: Sake and whisky (from Japan and Scotland are prominent), but don't ignore the house cocktails. For example, the Golden Saucer mixes gin with miso syrup, Velvet Falernum, rosewater and lemon juice, turned creamy with the addition of aquafaba, whipped liquid from a can of chickpeas.
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday; closed Monday.