Once a karaoke bar called Cafe Shino, this Streeterville
hideaway has tweaked its interior, moved the drunken crooning of pop songs to a private room, and emerged as the sake lounge Murasaki.
There's nothing wrong with the embarrassment that comes with karaoke, of course, but the new club seems to want to focus on its impressive variety of sake, wine and cocktails, offering drinks you probably won't find offered in most Chicago joints.
For sake novices, ask about Sake 101, an informal course the owners offer to explore the world of the Japanese rice wine. For $20, Sake 101 includes the tasting of four kinds of sake while cleansing your palette on one of Murasaki's offerings for hors d'oeuvres (like shumai: steamed dumplings with shrimp or pork; or temaki: cone-shaped sushi hand rolls). If you're not taking the lesson, be sure to discuss sake with the bartender anyway. Murasaki has such an assorted collection -- some dry, some tart, some fruity -- that there's surely something you could handle.
Not in a pure sake mood? Try a cocktail, like a bonsai, made with Zen green tea liqueur, or the cutesy-sounding pear-tini, made with pear sake and vodka. Or, if you're in a particularly exotic mood, try shochu, a Japanese beverage distilled from sweet potatoes or barley that usually runs around 25 percent ABV.
As much as the sake lounge emphasizes the sake, there's also a subtle emphasis on the lounge. There's something very chill about the entire establishment, perhaps from the wide chairs at the bar (feel free to sulk on those beauties) or the Kurosawa film playing on the television. Between those aspects and the sake, I don't see how you can't relax -- assuming you're not in the karaoke room.
Average cost: <$10
Centerstage Reviewer: Andy Seifert