July 1, 2010

Sneak Peek: Ippuku! (Berkeley)

by Kayoko Akabori

Ippuku (Berkeley)

It’s happening. Ippuku, the East Bay’s premiere yakitori and shochu bar is opening on Monday 7/5! HOLLA!

I was lucky enough to get a tour of the restaurant before it opens and talk with the owner/chef, Christian Geideman. Located in the heart of Berkeley, the restaurant space is quite breathtaking (read: epitome of cool) and the menu boasts nearly 50 kinds of shochu! INSANITY!

Ippuku (Berkeley)

Christian himself is not new to the world of Japanese cooking, or running restaurants. He opened Kasasoba, an izakaya in Santa Fe, before becoming chef de cuisine at Ozumo in Oakland. He has dedicated himself full time to building Ippuku from the ground up since the beginning of 2009, which is about to become a full-blown reality on Monday, as the doors will officially open on Center Street.

Ippuku (Berkeley)

Christian, who once worked as a sake distributor, began exploring the world of shochu on a trip to Japan years ago. I guess you could say he was smitten, considering he decided to make it his personal mission to open a bar/restaurant devoted to this stuff (which is surprisingly little known here in the States).

Right when you walk in, you’re greeted by a long row of 24 shochu bottles– ON TAP. The bottles are gigantic, but somehow defy gravity and hang upside down. Christian said he was inspired by an izakaya in Osaka that had this, and just had to have the genius contraption. Each one dispenses an exact shot! I would say it’s the main centerpiece of the entire restaurant– it is just AWESOME.

Ippuku (Berkeley)

Ippuku is an expansive, sparse space with light wood accents to compliment the cement walls and hanging pipes, painted blue. It’s as though a hip izakaya in Tokyo just landed in Berkeley. Local master builder, and ordained Zen Buddhist priest, Paul Discoe designed the 600 sq. ft space– not an easy task considering how long and narrow the space is. Bravo Mr. Discoe!

Ippuku (Berkeley)

The bar is located right as you walk in. But there will be no stools– standing room only. Racer 5 on tap!!

Ippuku (Berkeley)

Ippuku (Berkeley)

Despite the super high ceilings, intimate and cozy booths align one wall– just like Tokyo. This is gonna be the hottest date spot in the East Bay. Hell yah!

Ippuku (Berkeley)

There is an enclosed area on the other side, with several tables that will seat about 4-5 people each. NOMIKAI! (Please excuse the construction).

Ippuku (Berkeley)

Walking towards the back, the open kitchen with bar seating is just delightful.

Ippuku (Berkeley)

Ippuku (Berkeley)

Getting all the fire codes squared away here must have been a nightmare. With all the grilling and the smoke, this couldn’t have been an simple process with the DOH. But they did it! Skewered meats will be grilled, before your very eyes, on coal, just as they are meant to. Whew.

Ippuku (Berkeley)

Ippuku (Berkeley)

A little bit about shochu, which is a Japanese liquor– a close cousin to the Korean soju. It is absolutely NOT to be mistaken as sake (nihonshu), and is more like vodka in profile and taste, as it is distilled with barley, rice or potato. The end product tastes clean and often earthy. The potato version can be a bit pungent, and takes some getting used to– but when sipped on the rocks, as is recommended, one begins to appreciate the different dimensions of flavor.

Ippuku (Berkeley)

Also to be enjoyed with oolong tea, or with some freshly squeezed grapefruit juice!

Ippuku (Berkeley)

Ippuku’s shochu menu is out of this world. With nearly 50 bottles, 12 of them will be making their West Coast debut. As in, they aren’t available anywhere around here. They also have Awamori on the menu, which is a liquor from Okinawa. Yoko wrote about it last year.

Ippuku (Berkeley)

I believe Ippuku will increase shochu knowledge in the Bay Area tremendously. This is REALLY EXCITING!

Their food menu will predominantly be yakitori, crunchy parts and all, with a sprinkling of usual izakaya fare. I have an insider source telling me they make their own mayo and ponzu. Ohhhh Yahhhh.

Ippuku (Berkeley)

Great story: Christian grew up in Berkeley, and told me that the actual Ippuku space used to be an art house theater (hence all the awesome vintage Japanese movie posters). He said that the very last time he was there, he had accidentally left his wallet behind. The wallet contained $650. GASP! Of course, it was never found. He told me that he’s determined to make back that money here. It’s as though he was destined to open his dream restaurant, right in this exact location. It’s fucking fate.

Ippuku (Berkeley)

Ippuku, in Japanese, means to “take a break.” In slang terms, it’s more like, “take a smoke break.” Love it.

Ippuku (Berkeley)

Here’s to a fantastic opening, Ippuku! Wishing you many years of success in the Bay Area, that will surely bring a community together over grilled chicken gizzards and sweet potato shochu. We look forward to many drunk nights here, and watching you grow!

Full disclosure: Washi, Yoko’s husband is one of the bartenders at Ippuku. Make sure to stop by and say hello to him when you’re there! He is lots of fun and extremely knowledgeable about shochu, and drinking in general. We’re all drunks here, at Umamimart, what can I say.

*Updated (February 28, 2011): I started working as a server at Ippuku in August 2010, after I originally wrote this post. As of February 2011, I am no longer working there.

More photos of Ippuku here.


2130 Center Street
Berkeley, CA



  • Posted July 1, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    Looking forward to opening.

  • Posted July 1, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    It looks great. Sooo stylish!

  • tomo
    Posted July 1, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    so bummed i leave on the 5th and this is right up my alley!

  • seri
    Posted July 1, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    OMG! So excited to go!!!

    I love the woodwork and the fact that they have fresh grapefruit!

  • yoko
    Posted July 2, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    I just added some new photos from Ippuku on flickr

  • seri
    Posted July 6, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    Went last night. Awesome food and drinks. Tsukune, mochi wrapped in bacon and kurobuta were probably my favorites, but they were all delicious! I learned that I need my shochu mizu-wari’ed (thanks, Washi!). If that’s a word. I am weaksauce.

    Btw, your post didn’t mention that the women’s restroom has a Toto washlet!!! The men’s does not, though.

  • kayoko
    Posted July 6, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    i have a confession to make: i accidentally went to the men’s bathroom.

    i confirm that there was no Washlet in there.

  • yoko
    Posted July 6, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    Oh yeah! The washlet was not installed when Kayoko wrote this I think. And I think that it was a wise choice that they only have it in the women’s bathroom.

  • kayoko
    Posted July 6, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    Oh no, the washlet was def installed. I remember Cindy went to check it out.

    I thought it was weird when I walked in and there was no washlet.


    ps- Yoko, why is it wise to only have it in the women’s bathroom? You don’t think men deserve a nice ass spray too?

  • yoko
    Posted July 6, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    It’s wise because where I used to work in Tokyo, the men would never raise the seat all the way up. A washlet kind of needs a good push and follow-through to be fully vertical away from pee ricochet splash action. I am not sure if I am explaining it correctly but basically, it meant a lot of yellow residue on the underside of the washlet at the end of the day.

  • kayoko
    Posted July 6, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    Boys: Fucking learn to put the toilet seat down for god’s sake! Until then, you get no washlet. YOU LOSE!

    Yoko: Why don’t you explain to everyone why we should also put the toilet cover down as well.

  • seri
    Posted July 6, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    The heated seat was a lifesaver! The place was a little chilly w/ all their windows & door open… IAQ requirement?

    and ewww on the yellow residue!

  • yoko
    Posted July 6, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    You really want me to go into it Kayoko?

    Ok, if you insist…

    It is advised that you keep the toilet cover down as well as the toilet seat because there is a lot of fecal bacteria in the water in the toilet bowl even after it’s flushed. This water evaporates slowly but surely, attaching onto anything in its path (especially within a 6 foot radius) which usually includes toothbrushes, towels and other things that you would rather not have teeming with evaporated fecal bacteria. So ladies and gents, that is why I (and probably now you) will keep your toilet cover down from now on.

    Also, some people claim to have had snakes slither out of toilets.

  • tomoko
    Posted July 6, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    It looks real Izakaya but really modern!
    Can’t wait to check it out!

  • Eunice
    Posted July 26, 2010 at 4:36 am

    Oh, it looks super authentic! So much so that it reminds me strongly of my visit to Japan… I will definitely check this out when I’m in Berkeley next.

10 Trackbacks

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    […] driver involved in accident with motorcyclist fatality [Mercury News] Berkeley gets a new yakitori and shochu bar on Center Street [UmamiMart] Doubletree Hotel at Berkeley Marina defaults on mortgage [Contra Costa Times] […]

  • […] successful Umamiventures throughout the year, in the Bay Area, NYC and LA, and of course there were so many awesome posts. I would say that it was certainly a big year for […]

  • […] went to IPPUKU in Berkeley last night to try an example of a tokutei meishoshu and here’s what I got. FYI, […]

  • […] It is a junmai ginjo, and one of Washi’s favorite breweries (Washi is the bartender at Ippuku in Berkeley). The sake tastes exceptionally clean, and complimented these colder dishes well. Watch Urban […]

  • By Shochu Stop: Shochu vs. Soju – Umamimart on August 24, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    […] customers visit Ippuku, where I work, and see the shochu collection, they invariably say, “Oh wow, look at the […]

  • By Shochu Stop: Oyuwari « Umamimart on January 13, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    […] Washino is a certified Shochu Advisor. Find him behind the bar from Monday-Friday at Ippuku in Berkeley.  Also posted in Shochu Stop 5:22 pm | Tags: Drink, Eat In, Imo, Oyuwari, Shochu Posted in […]

  • By Japanify: Tekkadon « Umamimart on April 12, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    […] you are usually employed by a Japanese corporation. I will miss his face behind the bar at Ippuku. And I will always look back on his bike-to-work days with fond memories. Although he will still be […]

  • […] my claim that this drink has “world famous” status, Washi Washino, former bartender of Ippuku in Berkeley, often received inquiries from patrons who asked if he made the Awamori Wasabi-wari. He did not. In […]

  • […] May, our beloved Ippuku of Berkeley has been serving teuchi (handmade) soba. Owner-chef Christian Geidemann recruited Koichi Ishii […]

  • By Shochu Stop: Shochu vs. Soju - Umami Mart on March 5, 2016 at 3:17 pm

    […] customers visit Ippuku (where I work) and see the shochu collection, they invariably say, “Oh wow, look at the […]

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