It’s rare that a bar’s drink menu completely reflects one bartender’s obsession, but that’s the case at Mum’s, the bar and restaurant attached to Japantown’s Hotel Tomo. “I’m crazy for hamsters,” says bartender Mana Yasuda. That sentiment is reflected in the cocktails she creates, which have names such as Hamster on the Beach, Mexican Hamster, Hamster Sundae and Gloomy Hamster. This zaniness fits in perfectly with Tomo’s expression of hotel as pop culture art object. Each of the anime-themed guest rooms is filled with cutting-edge furniture and features a unique mural by artist Heisuke Kitazawa. Kitazawa sometimes goes by the moniker “PCP,” which seems appropriate in light of his work’s psychedelic, hallucinatory quality. His art also appears in Mum’s dining room, and features cute, ghostlike cartoon creatures floating through scenes of everyday Japanese life.
Yasuda is a graphic artist in her own right, and has worked for an interior design company in Japan. When she uses an artist’s metaphors to explain the reasoning behind her hamster cocktails, she makes them sound like the logical extension of the cuteness and mystery in Kitazawa’s murals. Says Yasuda, “The concept is that these drinks are easy to drink, and taste like candy, but with a lot of alcohol inside. Like a hamster, very cute, but very tough.”
Putting a lot of alcohol in the drinks is not as irresponsible as it sounds, because Yasuda’s biggest cocktails are served in carafes to be shared by small groups of friends. This is something the drinks have in common with the food. Mum’s was one of the first restaurants in the Bay Area to offer shabu-shabu, thinly sliced meat and vegetables cooked right at your table. Winnie Tam, whose family owns the restaurant, says, “We’re really big on serving food that’s designed to be shared. We like the carafe idea for drinks because it promotes the kind of sharing, communal experience that’s so important in Japanese culture.”
In addition to helping her parents run the restaurant, Tam also covers shifts behind the bar, and she has a full-time job as a real estate agent. Though her family is originally from Hong Kong, she’s very interested in preserving Japanese elements in Mum’s cocktails. The drink recipes at Mum’s tend to call for Japanese ingredients, such as sake, shochu (sometimes described as “Japanese vodka”), Midori melon liqueur and Calpico, which is a Japanese soft drink. Sake martinis and shochu gimlets are popular choices, and Mum’s Japanese Gibson is made with sake and garnished with a pickled plum instead of an onion. Whisky connoisseurs will be glad to know Suntory’s Yamazaki Single Malt also is available. Tam says Yasuda was given free rein to add new creations to the menu. Says Tam, “A lot of Mana’s drinks are classic drinks that she tweaks so she can make them her own.”
Despite her hamster love, Yasuda has yet to find a replacement for her last hamster, Laino, who passed away two years ago. She likens herself to a widow, explaining, “Once you’ve had a really great little hamster guy, it takes a long time to find another one.”
Shake with ice. Strain into carafe. Add 1 oz. Calpico. Top with pineapple juice and water. Present carafe with shot glasses. Serves four.
1800 Sutter St. • (415) 931-6986 • www.mumssf.com