Sake isn’t the first thing most American college students think of when choosing alcohol. Anyone who follows the credo “beer before liquor” knows to stick to one or the other, not both.
Taking sake bombs, in which drinkers drop a shot of sake (rice liquor) into a cup of Sapporo beer and throw it down, flies in the face of conventional wisdom. But that hasn’t stopped the sake bombing craze from hitting Ithaca.
View an audio slideshow of our reporter’s night out and learn the art of the sake bomb.
While tales of kamikaze fighters taking a shot of sake before their missions are well documented, how and where the Japanese tradition of sake bombing started is vague. Sake has been around for thousands of years, and the Japanese began brewing Sapporo beer in 1876. However, sake as it’s known today wasn’t developed until the 1960s.
In Ithaca, Miyaki’s in Collegetown, Plum Tree on Dryden Road and Little Tokyo on The Commons serve sake bombs, but in different ways. Little Tokyo serves them with glass beer mugs and ceramic shot glasses, and the restaurant has karaoke in the back of the restaurant. Little Tokyo restricts sake bombing until after every dinner patron has left. Manager Marie Chong said Little Tokyo wants to keep a quiet atmosphere.
“We have more local, older people who come in for dinner,” she said. “We don’t want people drinking early in the evening and disturbing customers.”
Looking to drink during dinner, four friends and I turned our attention to Miyaki’s in Collegetown. Like Plum Tree, Miyaki’s uses plastic shot glasses to avoid breaking and allows sake bombing whenever they’re open.
On this trip, our server and sake bomb instructor was Cornell senior Corinne Holden. She explained that many college students frequent Miyaki’s to sake bomb and it’s become a sensation with the entire restaurant filled with 200 loud, drinking students banging on tables on any given night.
“It gets pretty crazy in here,” she said. “You get a full room of people doing sake bombs and making noise. It’s tough for people who actually want to eat.”
Understandably, Holden said patrons who aren’t sake bombing sometimes complain about the noise. But the staff at Miyaki’s hasn’t let the complaints of the few interrupt the chants of the many. After seating us, Holden came out with sake, 22-ounce Sapparo beers, cups and shot glasses.
It didn’t go without notice that nobody was carded. Not that it mattered to most of us, who were over 21. But at least one underage student in the restaurant was served a sake bomb. The fact that restaurants are careless in carding groups of people having dinner has likely contributed to the popularity of sake bombing.
“Do you guys know what you’re doing?” she said.
“Absolutely not,” we replied.
Holden went on to explain that each round, as in each beer and sake server, should yield four or five sake bombs. This was great news considering each round cost $9, making this one of the cheaper forms of drinking in town.
The instructions were simple: Fill up the beer glass about a quarter of the way, place two chopsticks parallel to each other on top of the glass and then balance the shot of sake on the chop sticks. A group of people is supposed to do a cheer and bang the table, which separates the chopsticks and drops the sake in the beer. Senior Mike Dassinger was skeptical.
“If my shot doesn’t drop in the beer, I’m going to be pissed,” he said.
But any doubt about pulling off a proper bomb was replaced with trying to decide what our group chant would be. Holden said most sake bombers do the generic “Sake, sake, sake. Bomb!” Senior Jeb Banegas said that should be the first one.
“It’s not like we’re pros at this or anything,” he said. “Let’s try that one, and if we don’t like it, we’ll do something else.”
Settling on the generic chant, we set up our bombs and began. This is when the first rule of sake bombing became apparent: Don’t hit the table until the end of the cheer. Junior Brett Kreter was forced into taking his bomb before the chant was done because someone jumped the gun. Regardless, everyone was instantly hooked.
The sake served at Miyaki’s was relatively odorless and tasteless. Mixed with the light, creamy taste of the Sapporo, it was like dropping water into a cup before taking a big swig of sweet tea — with a somewhat different effect.
More bombs followed, with different chants that ranged from the “Ziggy Socky” chant to “The Man Show” to “Ithaca gets Bombed.” Our volume raised with every bomb and it was even enough to get two patrons, who were seated on the other side of the restaurant, to get up and leave — not without a couple of barbs exchanged. Holden, who has seen sober customers storm off before, laughed it off.
“People come here at night and they don’t know we get so much business and they get annoyed,” she said. “A lot of times, when it’s a college-age group, they think it’s cool and they join the table.”
Clearly, that wasn’t the case in this situation. As is usually the case with drinkers, after two rounds, we had had enough — we were sake bombed.