The star bartender, now currently at Oriole in Chicago, gives up the details on her Japanese-inspired bar opening next spring—and where to get a taste of what will be on the menu.
Evening Star
Credit: Sammy Faze Photography

“I’ve watched a lot of Japanese artisans work their craft in person,” says Julia Momose, an alum of The Aviary and GreenRiver currently helming the bar at Oriole, all in Chicago. “Seeing people do the thing they’ve master makes the experience that much more special.”

And that’s what Momose, a native of Japan, wants to bring to the Windy City with Kumiko, her upcoming bar opening in spring 2018 in partnership with Noah and Cara Sandoval of Oriole. The inspiration comes from kumiko, the intricate Japanese wood-working technique that is typically used in creating doors and partitions in Japan.

“Japanese homes are designed in layers, with a sliding door on the outside to protect against inclement weather and another to let light and air through. Kumiko transforms the same space depending on the time of day,” says Momose. “But there’s an intense mastery to do this right. One millimeter off can ruin the design.”

Julia, Noah and Cara of Kumiko
Credit: Sammy Faze Photography

That same attention to small details, stripping away of excess and mastery of technique is what Momose is focusing on with her cocktails at Kumiko, which will open in the West Loop. The bar will stock only a few spirits at a time, instead of hundreds, and a cocktail may star a piece of expertly cut ice instead of an intricate garnish. The drink menu will have anywhere from 11 to 15 cocktails, and will feature spirit-free ones as well, and the counter will be manned by two bartenders who will serve a sort of omakase cocktail experience for any of the 8 lucky guests at the bar.

“Looking back at the best meals I’ve had in Japan, true omakase isn’t just leaving it up the chef, but leaning forward and actively engaging in the tasting instead of leaning back and watching it all unfold,” says Momose.

The tasting menu will have a template—with bites from Sandoval and his team made in collaboration with the drinks—but it will take different directions, depending where the guest leads.

Everything is still in the works now as the build-out is ongoing, but you can get a sneak peek of Kumiko at Oriole in the next couple weeks. Meet the Evening Star, a forthcoming cocktail on Oriole's bar menu and a sort of take on the classic Vesper, typically made of gin, vodka and Lillet.

“It’s a Vesper, but it’s not a Vesper at all,” says Momose. “It changes the ratio and it features a Japanese gin, single-malt vodka from Ireland and pommeau from Chicago. It shows how much each ingredient matters and asks ‘How can I take this cocktail and make it the best way possible?’”

And it’s the perfect introduction to Kumiko.