Interview: bartender Kenta Goto (Pegu Club)

Bartender New York City

Tokyo native Kenta Goto has become a cocktail authority in his adopted city. [Audrey Saunders for]

Tokyo native Kenta Goto grew up working at his mother’s restaurant, which involved, among his many duties, tending bar. He was driven by a need for change and attraction for diversity to move to Manhattan. He started working at a sake bar in the East Village called Decibel and eventually transitioned to Pegu Club, which already caught his attention as a customer. We recently spoke by phone, where Goto further explained his background and outlook.

Josh Lurie: How did the opportunity come about at Pegu Club?

Kenta Goto: I came here as a customer in the first year of Pegu, after they opened. Pretty much I liked what I saw. I actually didn’t have any connection with Audrey Saunders, but luckily, I came across an opening ad on Craigslist, so I sent my resume with a couple letters and a couple days later Audrey got back to me with an e-mail and we took it from there.

JL: Do you have a first cocktail memory, good or bad?

KG: Gin and tonic was a must have drink when I was in high school. This goes back to Japan…It’s called HUB, it’s a British sports bar, a cheap drinking joint in Tokyo. It’s everywhere.

JL: Did you become interested in spirits or cocktails first?

KG: Both, and also cooking. Pretty much all sorts of eating and drinking.

JL: Given that your family had a restaurant growing up, was it a given you’d work with food or drink?

KG: That absolutely helped me with who I am today. I pretty much did everything, waiting tables to bussing plates and doing some preparation in the kitchen. Occasionally, I mixed some drinks too. Pretty much soju, sake, beer and gin and tonics. It’s not exactly carving ice or making Manhattans. That came in much later.

JL: Was there a moment when you knew you’d do this for a living?

KG: After four five years ago, I came to New York and started meeting bartenders through my first job as a bartender. What I noticed here is that being a bartender is a second job. People do it to make cash. You don’t see it in Japan. I started meeting professional bartenders in New York and those guys opened my eyes. In combination with my background, I felt if they could do it, I could do it too.

JL: Would you say that you have any mentors?

KG: My mentor is my boss, Audrey Saunders. Not just on making good drinks, but also how to take care of customers, all important things about hospitality, and also the business side too. Making drinks is not easy, but making good drinks is pretty much 25% of what we do. All other things are important on a daily basis.

JL: Do you expect to open your own bar?

KG: One day, I’d like to. Yes.

JL: What style of bar would it be?

KG: That is a good thing about New York and a good thing about Tokyo. I want to combine both aspects.

JL: Who are some other bartenders that you really admire, and how come?



Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

Blog Comments

[…] Kenta Goto spent seven years behind the wood bartop of Pegu club, equally honing his craft and applying it masterfully in the manufacture of the legend and mystique that surrounded Pegu. From house-made syrups to exquisite presentations, Goto dazzled us with everything he did under the Pegu banner. In 2015, however, he took it a step further and opened his own spot down on the LES: Bar Goto. […]

Loved every bit of your blog. Amazing.

Leave a Comment