**Due to an amazing response, our Universal Works for Yokocho T-shirt has now sold out online, the t-shirt is still available in our Broad st store & from Yokocho directly.
We all love a good bar. Often a place of togetherness, friendship and celebration it’s also a place where we can find some welcome relief after a long day. But finding a really good bar, the kind that distils a unique atmosphere and feeling that lives beyond the hangover, is certainly a trickier task, particularly in a small place like Nottingham. That said, Universal Work’s hometown has always had a knack for reaching beyond it’s size and producing some rather special things (even if we do say so ourselves).
Enter Yokocho Bar. Blink and you’d miss it, this hidden gem can be found in the unassuming Hurt’s Yard just off the North Western corner of Nottingham’s market square. Having opened in 2020 in between lockdowns, in a very unpredictable world, we think Yokocho was the perfect nod to a brighter future ahead.
At Yokocho they take Sake pretty seriously, and with a menu to suit everyone from seasoned drinkers to entry level cocktail sippers you can sit at the bar and wile away your time with their knowledgeable and friendly staff or you can mosey upstairs, take a seat on the custom made Mono Cut chairs and natter while making your way (sensibly and responsibly) through the menu. Sounding good so far? Soak up the Sake with some of their bar snacks and that’s starting to sound like our perfect evening right there.
Taking the helm is Simon Carlin. Simon is head chef and co-owner of their sister restaurant Kushi-Ya. For those lucky midlands folk, some will already know the name of this restaurant, it’s landed itself an iconic status in the city whilst retaining that perfectly understated and under the radar feeling that makes a good restaurant feel special.
We took some time to chat to Simon and find out more about the inspiration behind Yokocho as well as some of his personal experiences of both Japanese culture and life in Nottingham.
UW: Please can you tell us a bit about the history of Yokocho and how it came to be?
Simon: We opened in august 2020 during covid and we got a run of about 3 weeks then had to close again for a while. We always had it in our heads that a little bar close to the restaurant would be great. So when a unit came up we jumped on it and here we are.
UW: What’s the story behind the word Yokocho?
Simon: Yokocho literally mean ‘alleyway off to the side of a main street’ and the name also references all the little restaurants and bars down back alleys all over Japan. And our bar is located down a little back alley too.
UW: Nottingham locals might be familiar with your sister business, Kushi-ya, but what made you venture into a standalone bar space?
Simon: Yokocho came about because of my love for all things Japanese including sake and whisky in particular. At the restaurant we didn’t want to over complicate things with a huge drinks menu so felt a bar really close to the restaurant would allow us to showcase everything we love plus give us more flexibility with Kushi-ya.
UW: What are some of the things you look at when buying drinks and spirits for your bar?
Simon: We focus mainly on Japanese liquid and use a wide array of suppliers to source the products. We want people to love this stuff as much as we do so we need to make it accessible and easy going. First and foremost, it needs to taste good then we usually ask ourselves a simple question; can we sell it in Nottingham??
UW: What’s new on the menu at Yokocho?
Simon: A new drink that’s going down well at the moment is our Gochujang Old Fashioned. A Twist on a classic made with Japanese whisky/pineapple rum/gochujang chilli paste/bitters/togarashi
UW: Tell us more about the Yokocho x UW t-shirts, how did the partnership with Universal Works come about?
Simon: I met David & Steph years ago when working at another restaurant in Nottingham. They invited me to the opening of their new store and we became friends from there. So when we opened the restaurant 4 years ago we always had it in our head that we wanted staff in Universal Works (down to being a huge fan myself). So when the bar came about we asked UW to design some T-shirts using our logo. They also helped us out with the noren (entrance curtains) for the bar. Made from a beautiful indigo fabric.
UW: With both of your businesses, from the branding and interior decor to what's on the menu, there is a strong reference to Japan. Where did your love for all things Japanese come from and when did you decide to incorporate this into your businesses?
Simon: My love for Japan started in food. Eating and also cooking in restaurants as a chef. I loved the way everything could be an art form and how respected hard work was. And it grew from there discovering their culture, fashion, art etc. So When designing the bar we wanted the main focus to be on the craftsmanship of the furniture made for us by local designer Monocut. We wanted it to be minimalist and clean but with a modern accent.
UW: What are your business plans for the future?
Simon: No big plans as we are currently very happy with where we are. But saying that we have plenty of ideas and Kushi-Ya no2 is always a possibility.
We made some tee's or the Yokocho team's uniform - and we liked them so much we made a few extra! A very small run of the T-Shirt are available for UW customers to buy online and in the Nottingham Broad Street store, as well as directly from Yokocho themselves.
And if you do swing by the bar, be sure to enjoy a Yuzu Margarita or a Nikka Coffee Grain Whiskey while you’re there.