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Sake It To Me

Sake bombing has become largely a phenomenon for young drinkers because many restaurants don't card minors

Published: Monday, January 31, 2005

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

Every semester during final exams, Damoah Grill on Chiswick Road receives an impressive influx of clientele. Damoah, a family-run Japanese and Korean restaurant, enjoys a modest and unassuming niche on the corner of Chiswick and Commonwealth Avenue.

On a normal day, only a few patrons share the tables, munching shrimp shumai quietly to the tinkle of soft Asian music. But as finals start wrapping up, the restaurant explodes with the synchronized bang of fists on the table and groups of up to 20 people chanting as they guzzle from glasses. The glasses pound back onto the table. Boston College has invaded Damoah with the sake bomb.

"Sake" in Japanese simply translates to "alcoholic beverage." Sake liquor is made from rice and boasts an especially high alcohol content (18 percent by volume) due to the increased starch digesting enzymes that make more sugars available to the yeast for fermentation. Sake became popular in the United States after World War II when American soldiers in Japan discovered the exotic beverage. During this time, the Japanese were drinking sake warm because of severe war-time rice shortages. The heat of the drink masked the rougher and less pure flavor that the rice substitutes caused. This trend of sake served at body temperature (around 100 degrees Fahrenheit) continues in the U.S. today.

Sake bombing, actually more popular in the U.S. than in Japan, owes part of its popularity to the drama of its consumption. Usually, the drinker places two chopsticks parallel to each other across the top of a bar glass with a shot glass of sake balanced between them. The sake hovers over the beer (usually the classic Japanese brew Sapporo). In a dramatic and synchronized sweep, everyone at the table bangs two fists on the tabletop to knock the sake shot into the glass of beer. Then, they all race to finish the beer, with the submerged sake bobbing inside.

Urban legend claims that the body can absorb alcohol faster when it is heated to body temperature, but no sake drinker can actually verify the scientific backing behind this lore.

At BC, sake is particularly popular with underclassmen because several Japanese restaurants in Boston do not ask for identification to verify that the patrons are of legal drinking age. Takemura in Harvard Square is especially infamous for its lax carding policy. Several BC sophomores noted going there to drink sake several times and never being carded. It also owes part of its notoriety to its location in an underground lair, requiring patrons to descend several flights of stairs into the main dining room.

"I even went to one place that said as long as one person at the table was 21, it was okay," said Elizabeth Pullum, CSOM '07. "Sake bombing's fun in itself, but I think most underclassmen go because they don't get carded. It's a way to get off campus and drink. I think the fun of it dies off as you get older."

Chris Brown, A&S '07, also enjoyed sake bombing in the heyday of Takemura. "It was great because you could buy alcohol and drink in a public place. It's great to get out of the dorm and have an alternative to a bar for the people who don't have IDs. I think of it as a great freshman year thing."

Mike Boyle, CSOM '07, enjoys sake bombing for the unique atmosphere: "It becomes a drinking game that's different because it's in between a bar and a restaurant. We usually like to go for someone's birthday."

"It has the same appeal as beer pong," said Julie Carlin, A&S '07. "It's a competition for who can chug the fastest, and supposedly, warm sake and cold beer makes you drunk faster." Carlin has sampled several sake joints, and she noted, "I remember some really sketchy places by BU where the sake was in plastic cups. I like the places where it's a multi-table affair, which makes it a way to make new friends. I had this great night where we hung out with these Harvard people during their spring break when we were over in Cambridge."

"However, I usually am not the one bombing," she said with a laugh. "Those things screw you over."

Carlin also said that most BC underclassmen try to avoid Japanese restaurants near BC because these places card college students regularly.

Dongeun Lee, a manager at Domoah Grill near BC, said she sees many groups of BC students coming in for sake to celebrate the end of finals. "We always check the IDs," she said. "We've had no problems with fake IDs, but sometimes people try to use their school ID to buy the alcohol, and we know that doesn't work. We always ask for their driver's license instead."

Recently the Boston Police have caught onto the sake trend and have made a habit of raiding popular sake places.

Pullum said that she remembered hearing about some bars that get raided almost every night.

One BC student, who wished to remain anonymous, witnessed this threat first hand when she was in Tokyo City, a Harvard Avenue Japanese restaurant popular for its sake bombs. "We were inside, and a few people told us that there were cops outside, but we stayed there because we figured it wouldn't be a problem," she said. "But they came in, and we told them right away that we weren't 21. They took our real IDs, and made us wait for about 10 minutes." The student said that some of the cops were friendly and understanding, especially one who was a BC graduate, but some were continually telling the group how much trouble they were in. "One said, 'You're lucky we're not locking you up right now,'" she said.

Everyone in the group received a court summons, and over the next six weeks each appeared in court separately. "The weird thing was, we got different sentences," she said. "I only got 60 days probation, but some people got a year of probation and 40 hours of community service."

Despite the experience, the student said she enjoyed the times she did go out sake bombing. "It was nice because you knew you weren't going to get carded. You could be loud and the restaurant wouldn't care."

Many students continue to enjoy sake bombing and are willing to take the risk. "I can understand why they do it," said Lee at Domoah. "They want to relieve stress from school or work, especially after exams. So why not?"

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