The bar at Bar Futo has elements that are unique to restaurants in Portland. Photos by Angie Bryan

Forget (for a moment) about all the food-related buzz around Bar Futo, which opened in December in Five Guys’ former Old Port location. Let’s focus on the beverage part of the experience – bar geeks and sake enthusiasts are going to love this place.

I haven’t been to Japan, but Bar Futo definitely has the most comprehensive sake list I’ve ever seen, thanks to its partnering with Advanced Sake Professional Alyssa Mikiko DiPasquale, owner of The Koji Club, Boston’s first sake bar. The multi-page menu divides the sake offerings into categories of sparkling, cups and cans, crudo, grill, luxe and dessert, making it much easier for sake novices to navigate.

The cocktail menu is also divided into categories: high (for highballs), low (for colorful on the rocks drinks), up (for neat and complex creations) and down (for when you’re in a dark and stormy mood). All the highballs are made using a Suntory Toki highball machine, a type of hyper-carbonation device (think Soda Stream on steroids) that render the carbonated part of a highball approximately 30 times bubblier, creating an effect some have described as “whiskey (or whatever spirit is involved) champagne.” Obviously we had to try one of those, so my friend ordered the $11 vodka highball (vodka, black cherry and a shrub made from ume, often referred to as Japanese plum). I chose the $14 Yuzu Drink No. 1 from the “up” section – genever (a juniper-flavored malted grain spirit made in the Netherlands and Belgium also known as “Dutch gin”), bergamot (a citrus fruit from the orange family), yuzu citron (a Japanese citrus fruit) and lemon.

The vodka highball and Yuzu Drink No. 1 at Bar Futo.

The vodka highball tasted more like a flavored seltzer water than a cocktail, and was very light and refreshing. My favorite was the Yuzu Drink No. 1, thanks to its extremely intense lemon and citrus flavor, like the adult version of a Lemon Drop. Yes, please.

Bar Futo is filled with subtle touches to Japanese culture and culinary tradition, and it is clear that a lot of thought went into even the smallest details. Portions of the wood paneling were made using an ancient Japanese technique of preserving wood by charring it, there are porcelain tiles from Japan at the bar, and the food menu is rooted in binchotan-fired cooking, a style of cooking over Japanese charcoal that is both odorless and smokeless (pause while all my fellow Texans ask, “but WHY?”). They also offer kakigori, a Japanese shaved ice. I’ll leave the detailed food commentary to Press Herald restaurant critic Andrew Ross, other than to say that we very much enjoyed our meal.

Bar Futo is such a loving homage to Japan that I wondered whether the owners had once lived there. I reached out after my visit and learned that chef-owner Jordan Rubin spent the best part of his 20-year career working in Japanese restaurants across New England; he and co-owner Marisa Lewiecki have traveled pretty extensively across Japan, where they really enjoyed the highball culture. It was at Katana Kitchen in NYC, however, where they became enamored with the Suntory Toki machine. In Portland, Rubin and Lewiecki are best known as the team behind both Mr. Tuna and Crispy Gai.

Both the music and the lighting were at a decent level, and the seats were some of the most comfortable I’ve been in.

After our visit, I saw on Bar Futo’s Facebook page that Bar Manager Bryce Summers makes his own midori using fresh honeydew, a high-proof neutral spirit and a tiny bit of gentian liqueur (a bittersweet French aperitif). I’m already looking forward to returning to taste it.

Retired diplomat Angie Bryan writes about Maine’s cocktail bars while making as many puns as her editor allows.

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