Love Potions | Wine Enthusiast
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Love Potions

If you’re a wine lover or craft cocktail fan, discovering your date prefers a Bud Light is more than a buzz kill—it can be a deal breaker.

That’s why I was delighted when, on our third date, Matt suggested we visit Pegu Club, a cocktail bar on West Houston Street in New York City. There, we had drinks and said hello to Kenta, a bartender and Tokyo transplant we met at a wine and food festival during Date No. 2.

After sinking into the leather couches, Kenta set two drinks down on the hand-carved wooden table. The candlelit ­setting allowed us to focus on aromas of ginger, spice and lemon emanating from our glasses. They were love potions.

Marina Vataj & fiance

While sipping and sampling, ­Kenta shared the inspiration behind his ­creations. We joked, laughed and ordered more drinks. It seemed Kenta’s cocktails had suddenly become a welcome third wheel in our courtship.

After that night, there were many more candlelit dates and cocktail-fueled conversations in the months that followed. We’d promised to visit Kenta, yet never quite got around to it. Until one summer night in August, two years later.

Matt wanted to have cocktails at a “cool spot” on Manhattan’s Lower East Side before meeting friends for dinner. What cool spot? I should know about this place.

“What’s it called?”

Goto. It came recommended,” he said.

I was surprised Matt had heard of it before I had.

The space was chic and intimate. Sitting at a corner table, we perused the menu. It was cool. Ingredients like shiso, miso and yuzu sprinkled the page. We ordered drinks from a friendly waitress, but it wasn’t she who delivered them. It was someone I recognized instantly.


“Matthew, Marina, it’s nice to see you two again,” Kenta said as he placed an empty, chilled glass in front of me. “I’ll be right back with your drink.”

“What are the chances Kenta is here at this spot you picked to have drinks?” I said. “We haven’t seen him since that night at Pegu Club!”

Kenta returned holding a small carafe containing the cocktail and placed it on the table. Loosely tied around the neck of the carafe with a white string was a diamond ring. And to my left, Matt was on his knee asking me to marry him.

After the shock and nerves subsided and I said yes, Matt handed me a leather-bound journal. He’d documented, step-by-step, his journey leading to the proposal: finding the perfect ring, the stealth dinner with my parents to ask their permission, his plan for us to visit Kenta’s new place, Bar Goto.

But perhaps most impressive of all was a collection of menus he’d snatched up from all of the favorite bars we visited during our courtship. From wine at The Otheroom to cocktails at Angel’s Share and (of course) Pegu Club, the journal chronicled all the drinks over which we’d fallen in love.

Our night’s plan? To revisit those bars and celebrate the power of love potions.