Dateline, Manhattan: Sprudge.com is first to report that Bon Yagi, the “East Village Ambassador for Japanese Cuisine” has now officially opened his first coffeeshop and bar venture, called Hi-Collar and located at 214 East 10th Street. Mr. Yagi's stable of establishments, which include East Village stalwart Rai Rai Ken, perfect hole-in-the-wall Curry-Ya, and the supremely hollerable street food stand Otafuku, are all about bringing a slice of Japanese food and culture to New York. Hi-Collar is his attempt to introduce the slower, more meticulous and leisurely kissaten style of coffee shop to the hurried, harried world of New York City coffee. This is the world's first in-depth look at Hi-Collar.
The name Hi-Collar comes from the term haikara, which Professor Merry “Corky” White in her excellent book Coffee Life In Japan defines as “meaning elite or Western-modern, referring to the starched high collar worn by Western-dressing young men of the late Meiji period.” Haikara historically referred to both an overall Western/Modern sensibility and a specific type of Western-style food, heavily influenced by Parisian café fare, that came to be associated with the new kissaten style of coffee shop that emerged around the turn of the century, out of the dramatic cultural shifts of the late-Meiji and early-Taisho periods in Japan. As Japanese cities expanded and became increasingly Westernized, there was a growing need for new informal social spaces, and the neighborhood kissaten grew out of that void. These cafes became both a center of social life for the new modes of living, and a place where newcomers to the cities could go to observe “peoples’ ways, looks, attitudes…and models of sophistication,” according to Professor White.
Hi-Collar is this classic kissaten model come to life in Manhattan. The space is a deep, narrow bar with a row of stools, done-up with an attractively clean and minimal combination of white walls, dark wood, and brass accents. To-go coffee service is provided, but the focus is clearly on taking a more leisurely pause to sit at the bar and enjoy. All of the coffee is handmade to order, and there is a full lunch menu of updated kissaten fare.
Hi-Collar is currently serving coffee roasted by Porto Rico Importing Co., one of the oldest of old-guard New York coffee companies. I would consider this to be archetypically dark-roasted 2nd wave coffee, which is to say, it's something of an outlier for the kinds of cafes we typically write about on Sprudge, and certainly not what I usually choose to drink. But the siphon I ordered at Hi-Collar was excellently prepared; called the Tokyo Blend (Porto Rico is somewhat blend-mad), my coffee was initially dominated by carbolic roast flavors, before opening up into a pronounced hard caramel and nutty sweetness, which mellowed into a nice toffee with the gentle addition of milk. This was one of the most articulate, well-balanced darkly roasted cups of coffee I’ve ever had, the kind that would make your favorite old-school coffee drinker immoderately happy. And the gorgeous Japanese porcelain it was served in, alongside the delectable savory-sweet munchies it came with, rounded out my coffee experience at Hi-Collar into a real delight.
While at Hi-Collar I had a chance to chat with Yuki Izumi, the woman running their coffee program, about Japanese coffee tastes, which include a preference for darker roasts. She also plied me with their iced-coffee offerings, including a Hario V60 brewed onto ice (I just couldn’t get past the bitter roast on that one) and their “Mizudashi” style cold-brewed coffee, which was ridiculously big and chocolatey tasting–actually one of the best cold-brews I’ve had in this city, though way out of my normal interests flavor-wise. In a more modern vein, they also offer Aeropress both hot and over ice, with a range of offerings that include Ethiopian, Nicaraguan, and Hawaiian Maui coffees from Porto Rico. Ms. Izumi says that they are exploring working with other roasters as well, and I’m personally quite excited by possibility of combining their meticulous preparation with other roast profiles. Seeing classic Japanese dark roast sensibilities sharing menu space with modern light roast profiles would certainly be a fitting take on haikara in 21st century New York City.
What I’m even more excited for is their expansion to morning service. Currently they are open 11-4 for lunch and coffee, and then at 6pm they switch over to a bar menu, offering an expansive array of Japanese beers and sakes alongside a selection of small plates. I talked to to Sakura Yagi, Mr. Yagi’s daughter, and she said that they are planning on incorporating a morning service of coffee and breakfast fare, including the classic kissaten “Morningu Setto” of an egg, small salad, and thick slices of Japanese style “pan” toast.
Sakura Yagi says that her father created Hi-Collar to further his mission of introducing New Yorkers to the Japanese lifestyle, and to create somewhere where he could go and have a relaxing cup of coffee. Hi-Collar is certainly an interesting bit of Japanese cultural immersion–from the ”full service” Japanese toilet in the bathroom, to the period aesthetic, to the food and alcohol menus, to the unique coffee program. Most of all, it is indeed a pleasant kissaten nestled in a picturesque East Village street, perfect for a relaxing pause in your day.
Alex Bernson (@alexbernson) is a staff writer for Sprudge.com.