Arguably the friendliest face in the entire North American bar scene, Masahiro Urushido has been slinging drinks from Katana Kitten, the bar where he is a managing partner and ‘director of deliciousness’, since opening in 2018.
This year, in the first-ever North America’s 50 Best Bars, Urushido is named Altos Bartenders’ Bartender, the only peer-voted accolade in the awards programme. Selected by the 50 head bartenders on this year’s list, who were asked to give the name of one person who had done more to further the craft of bartending over the course of their career, there is arguably no greater honour in cocktail craft.
From a young age, Urushido was interested in all things USA – he begged his mother to start learning English when he was about six years old – so when one of his cousins moved to the States and invited him to come visit, Urushido began organising regular visits to the Big Apple.
Urushido’s career in hospitality started delivering pizza and working in restaurants in Tokyo after moving from his hometown of Minowa, a small, rural town in the Nagano prefecture of Japan. He made the move to New York permanent in 2008 and never looked back. Life behind the stick began at the much-lauded Saxon + Parole, a bar where he completely re-defined the drinks programme and moved up the ranks for seven years to become bar manager, before starting out on his own.
In terms of Katana Kitten, Urushido’s magnum opus, dive bars serving craft cocktails are nothing new, but this bar takes the concept to the next level. Walking into the space, guests are ensconced by Japanese posters of 1980s US blockbusters and a pumping soundtrack. Behind the long bar, Urushido greets each guest with his trademark grin and, usually, a whisky highball delivered straight from the tap.
The work Katana Kitten and its team, led by Urushido, does to promote junior bartenders is likewise profound. Urushido is one of the lead judges for the 50 Best Bars Scholarship, which launched in 2022, and Katana Kitten will be the host venue for one of two stages (internships) for the lucky winner, where they will be immersed in the bar’s training programme.
A man whose impact on the New York and global bar scene has been profound, there is no more deserving winner of the peer-voted Altos Bartenders’ Bartender Award in its inaugural year.
Now read the interview with Masahiro Urushido and watch the video: