Some of the best bar spots to go for a drink in Kagoshima are tucked away in the upper floors of otherwise fairly nondescript inner city buildings. Bar Suke is no exception. Climb the concrete staircase to the second floor of the Yuzuki Building and you will find a plain wooden door with a red doormat, neatly flanked by two small piles of salt to ward away evil spirits as per the Japanese custom. Inside is one of Kagoshima’s most stylish bars and some of the most gorgeous and expensive drinkware in Japan.
Daisuke and Yusuke
Owners Daisuke and Yusuke are impeccably turned out behind the bar in Oshima Tsumugi kimono. When asked about the name of the bar Yusuke says, “The name of our bar ‘Suke’ is taken from both our names. He’s Daisuke and I’m Yusuke, so we put it together into one word and called the bar ‘Suke’.”
Behind the bar counter a dazzling array of sparkling glass, tin, wood, and lacquer drinkware shows that these boys are serious about their drinking. Visitors to the bar can choose the glass or cup that they drink from, and all of them are unique handcrafted masterpieces of Japanese artisanry.
The cut crystal glass known as Satsuma Kiriko is held in particularly high regard in Kagoshima, but Yuske explains that it often isn’t used as much as perhaps it should be. He says, “Kiriko is expensive and something people like to take care of. Because of that many people don’t use the glasses much and just display them. I think it’s important to use the glasses as that is their true purpose – they were made to be used, it’s not something just to talk about, it’s something to hold in your hand and drink from.”
Love Affair with Satsuma Kiriko
Both Daisuke and Yusuke are friendly, open, and welcoming and many customers come to chat with them while enjoying a relaxing drink in refined surroundings. Yusuke says, “The reason why people come to a bar is of course to have a drink, but some people also want to talk to the owner. The most common thing people talk about is relationships. I’d say about 70-80% of the conversations we have are about relationships. Things people are uncertain about, sometimes they just want an opinion. I always want to give the customer an answer if I can, so unless it’s something really crazy I try to imagine I am that person, listen to what they have to say very carefully, almost try to become them, and only then I’ll offer my opinion.”
Kagoshima Drinking in Style
With such a wide selection of stylish drinking vessels it’s hard to stick to just one, and both owners recommend using a selection of different ones to get the full experience. Daisuke notes, “We have a wide range of glasses and cups of all prices, not just Satsuma Kiriko. We have glass, pottery, wood, all of various prices. The most expensive Satsuma Kiriko glass is over 100,000 yen.”
By trying out different cups and glasses customers can notice the subtle effect of presentation and the materials used on their drink. Yusuke explains, “One customer told us he usually drinks shochu from a normal glass. He said that drinking shochu from a Satsuma Kiriko glass is so much better. I’ve heard many times it’s like twice as delicious. A lot of people tell us that the glasses are luxurious and that makes them happy. In fact most people have never touched luxury glassware, so when the glasses first come out with a drink customers are very impressed.”
Thinking about the concept of the bar, Daisuke continues “I think it’s really about giving people a sense of satisfaction. Even if it’s the same shochu the mouthfeel and heaviness of the drink is different depending on the cup. After enjoying Satsuma Kiriko, some people want to try something different. Having the same drink in a different glass is surprisingly different and quite fun as well. Enjoying that difference is what we want our customers to experience.”
Continuing Traditional Crafts
Customers visiting Bar Suke might have their first opportunity to try using luxurious glassware and other traditional craft cups. This often leads to customers seeking out these craft items and purchasing them for use at home. Yusuke notes this connection saying, “We are really happy when customers show an interest in the glassware and want to learn more. We’re not directly involved in making the glassware of course, but if we can help get people interested in crafts. That’s the role we want to play.”
Daisuke adds, “If someone who isn’t from Kagoshima comes to our bar and is interested in Kiriko, we love it when they want to get involved, or even maybe become a craftsman. If we can connect customers to the craftspeople who make Satsuma Kiriko it might lead to something interesting, and that can only be good for the future of traditional crafts in Kagoshima.”