While izakayas—or Japanese pubs that serve snacks to accompany beer, sake and shōchū—are plentiful in Japan, they’re a rare find outside the country. For a long time, Izakaya Ten was the NYC go-to for authentic but approachable Japanese bar experience. It balanced a cozy yet refined feel, and when the venue closed last year it left a huge gap in the NYC dining scene. When former Izakaya Ten server-turned-manager-turned-general manager Ashwin Balani took over the space for his new Japanese pub Juban, he knew he wanted to channel some of the energy of the space’s former occupant. One of the major elements, was the mural that spanned Izakaya Ten’s dining room, painted by one of the restaurant’s former servers turned full-time artist, Erick Hice.
“Stylistically our mural is very different than the previous,” explains Balani. “We wanted Eric to paint in the space again because our intention was to create a familiar feeling, yet present something new. It made perfect sense for Eric to paint a new mural in a space and on a scale that he was familiar with.” Both of the murals draw on Japanese mythology and Hice used a similar approach for each mural. With the new mural, Hice tells a story of life, death and rejuvenation.
“The mural is centered around a sake waterfall that flows from the sky,” Balani says. “Some themes of waterfalls are regeneration, awareness, potential and mystery.” Nice opted for bright, almost fluorescent flourishes in the mural that contrast with dark, slightly menacing backgrounds. “The mural really represents life and death,” Balani explains. “The understudy of the piece is a skull and a geisha. The mural expresses how everything is connected through nature and that it is evidently at the core of our livelihoods.” Hice showed Balani a small sketch of what he hoped the mural would embody. And, after minimal direction, Balani let Hice run with his vision.
“One of my drawings inspired Ashwin’s ‘Garden of Juban Delights’ idea, which gave me a clear direction of what to do,” Hice tells CH. “I researched Japanese yokai, and made up some of my own. I work from my subconscious a lot, so when I actually started painting I did not know what it was going to look like, then a few days later I had it mapped out, but not sure how I got there.” The resulting piece stretches throughout the main dining room and invites visitors to engage with new details upon each visit. “There are hidden things painted in the mural that if you figure out will reveal what it is really about,” Hice adds. “It is like a puzzle that you can decipher a little bit more, each time you go to Juban.
Juban is located at 207 10th Ave, New York.
Izakaya Ten mural images courtesy of Lannie Ahn, Juban images by Cool Hunting