Creative Director, Kumiko and Kikko
At Kumiko, one of the biggest names in Chicago’s bar scene, it’s all about the little things. As creative director and beverage guru Julia Momose puts it, “If there are 100 things in the room, even though one guest won’t notice all of them, over the course of the evening, our guests as a unit will.”
Momose, who opened Kumiko with Noah and Cara Sandoval in January, certainly sweats the small stuff when it comes to the West Loop bar’s expansive and innovative beverage menu. She describes each drink as a connection to Japan, where she grew up, whether through its style and feel or a specific ingredient. There are explorative flights that help guests experience Japan’s key sake-producing regions, and comparative spirits flights to help them appreciate nuances in Japanese whisky and shōchū, a distilled liquor made from grains or starches like sweet potatoes and barley. And then there are what Momose calls “spiritfrees,” the zero-proof cocktails she’s been designing since long before their recent rise in popularity. The Hōji-Hai, for example, features hōjicha, a Japanese green tea, as well as pomegranate molasses, Concord grape vinegar, and Q Club soda.
Momose wanted to have something on the menu “beyond your basic Diet Coke and soda with a lime” for guests who don’t drink, but it was also for her mom and dad. “My parents don’t drink, and it took me a really long time to tell them that I was a bartender,” she says. “Part of that was because I didn’t know if they would approve, necessarily, but also because I knew that they wouldn’t be able to experience the work that I was doing.” A spirit-free drink menu was one way to give them a view into her world.
For Momose, it comes down to creating an experience tailored to each guest, whether they’re searching for a complex cocktail or an artfully arranged drink. “Kumiko is a place where you can dive in and lean forward and ask questions and get smart answers—or a place where you can just sit back and feel special.” —Melissa Flandreau