Mika, a new 6,000 square foot, art-centric bar, is opening in Bushwick off the Morgan L stop on July 6th. The roomy, minimalist space will feature beer, wine, local craft sake, Japanese snacks, billiards, and shuffleboard. Unlike pre-existing bars forced to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic, Mika is part of a select breed: a COVID baby born under a bad sign, like a London infant brought into the world during the Blitz.
The bar is co-owned by husband and wife duo John Du and Mika Furuya. The latter, the bar’s design guru and namesake, is from Tokyo. Her husband, from Shanghai, bought the property in 2014 and the couple began the planning phase in 2018.
The expansive enterprise, like many businesses in the area a former warehouse, is painted white for maximum starkness, which according to Mika is deliberate from both aesthetic and practical standpoints; aside from place to enjoy a list of beverages curated to maintain as local a menu as possible, simple Japanese-oriented snacks, and games like shuffleboard, darts and pool, the space will act as a gallery for local artists. Therefore, maintaining a tabula rasa approach to decoration has been deemed necessary by Furuya and co. to avoid the potential for visual clash.
In the exact center of the property is a 40-foot-odd rectangular bar running perpendicular from Thames Street outside. To its left is a spacious area for the aforementioned games, and to the right a seating area that gives out onto a large patio.
But this, as if you needed reminding, is bar creation in the age of COVID; while Du and Furuya didn’t conceive of the place during the pandemic, its development over the last few months has been largely an effort to accommodate new realities.
“We got the permits and all that in January,” said Du, sitting with his wife and two small dogs in Mika’s sunny patio. “We were shooting to open in March. But that didn’t happen – and it’s ok, because it gave us a chance to fine-tune our program. Being first time bar owners, we were unsure of a lot of things. Is the food good enough? Should we have more cocktails? There’s been a lot of soul-searching.”
“You thought it was going to be so easy,” laughed Furuya.
“Yeah,” chuckled Du. “Now I’m working 12-hour days.”
They are hardly alone in this, but the pandemic’s thumbprint, sticky with hand sanitizer, is everywhere to be found at Mika.
Consider, for instance, Mika’s physical plant: a quick tour of the premises courtesy of Du and Furuya came with the detailing of several tweaks indicative of our germ-centric moment. The seating area’s floor plan, as an example, can only accommodate a fraction of what it could in normal times, while the gaming area’s roomy expanse is only sparsely utilized with two pool tables, one shuffleboard and a dart board; you could fit a scale replica of the Parthenon in the remaining space.
Adding a slightly retro-futurist touch, meanwhile, is a clear plastic dome about nine feet high that sits in the rear of the gaming area, vented in two places and set with a low table and plush chairs. Du explained that it would serve as kind of a pandemic era twist on the VIP lounge for those insisting on a slightly more fastidious version of social distancing.
Then there’s the patio, which they had planned on waiting another year to use. But given the limited capacity indoors, it’s being pressed into service immediately; a few barrel tables and low stools are scattered around the gravel expanse, waiting for placement of elbows and butts. The opposite wall is an expanse of bare iron corrugate, which Mika hopes will soon be replaced by the mural work of local artists. (“My dream for Mika is as a space for artists.”) And it’ll be dog-friendly, the couple assured me as we sat in the sun after the tour, their two small hounds tracing frantic patterns in the dirt.
“Local,” a concept that, especially in Brooklyn, has never buzzed louder, finds expression in Mika’s bill of fare, which is as modest in size as the surroundings are sprawling. The coffee (Superlost) and tea (Tea Pigs) come from the neighborhood (the latter is a British company with a branch here), and the bulk of the wines hail from New York’s buzzy Finger Lakes region – no Bushwick vineyards yet.
Even one of Mika’s sakes is locally sourced: Kato Sake Works, New York’s second sake brewer and its possibly its sole purveyor of small scale, craft sake (read more about them here). They’re a scant five minute walk south across Flushing Avenue. (Sake, available of course by the glass, is also repurposed in a low ABV “mojito” and a yuzu highball.)
However, it is beer, not wine or sake, which takes up the bulk of Mika’s drink menu, something which seems to align with Du and Furuya’s own predilections.
“I became a huge beer fan around 2015,” explained Du. “If you put a dot down [in Bushwick] and draw a five mile circle, you’ll come up with 20 brewers.”
“We did several beer crawls,” said Furuya.
Du nodded. “Every chance we got while the space was being built out, we were out picking beers. Finback [in Ridgewood] stood out, this random warehouse in the middle of a bunch of single family homes.”
Leaving one’s own drink preferences aside, beer’s dominance makes perfect sense for a bar whose owners, during our hour-long interview, often reiterated their commitment to fishing for suppliers with as short a reel as possible; Bushwick and the surrounding areas have a long history of beer brewing.
The beer industry went fallow here for many decades following Prohibition. Then, just a few years ago, upstart Kings County Brewing Company opened their doors, helping to set off something of a Bushwick (and Ridgewood) beer renaissance – one that Mika, in turn, celebrates vis-a-vis its tap curation. Radiant Pig and Grimm Artisanal Ales, together with the above-mentioned firm, represent for Bushwick, while tribute is paid to neighboring Ridgewood with nationally known company Evil Twin Brewing and the tiny Finback Brewery. The rest of the beers are a mix of small (Singlecut Beersmiths, Gun Hill Brewing) and relatively large (Five Boroughs, Brooklyn Brewery) brewers from various parts of Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.
Finally, a small cache of snacks come courtesy of Tasuku Murakami, formerly of Lobster Club, a high-end Japanese spot in Midtown. Come July 6, he and his team will crank out food firmly designed with drinkers in mind: edamame, mixed nuts, hummus, cheese, Japanese sausage, and my own favorite Japanese drinking snack, takoyaki. In addition, coffee drinkers and boozers alike can enjoy a grab-bag of baked goods courtesy of L’Imprimerie (Bushwick-based, of course), available only on weekends.
New York is famous as a land of dreamers and doers; John Du and Mika Furuya are part of a long tradition, and they’re ambitious; the sheer size of their property suggests any number of usages. Much of their ambitions will have to be put on hold until the pandemic sorts itself out. In the meantime, Mika and its owners are, like the rest of small business New York, gamely working within the limitations dealt them.
25 Thames Street
Hours: Monday – Thursday, 4pm – 10pm; Friday – Sunday, 11am – late.
For more news, sign up for Bushwick Daily’s newsletter.
Join the fight to save local journalism by becoming a paid subscriber.